Sometimes, big discoveries come in small packages. This year, two separate studies of tiny, simple etchings cast doubt on whether modern humans are really the only Homo species to have created art. A geometric carving on a rock in the back of a cave in Gibraltar may have been created by Neanderthals, the closest known relatives of modern humans, some 40,000 years ago, according to one study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers who tried to recreate the gridlike etching said this carving wasn't the accidental byproduct of butchery, but rather an intentional design.
Earlier this month, another group of scientists in Java, Indonesia, reported in the journal Nature that they found a series of slashes and an "M"-shaped zigzag" on a shell that's between 540,000 and 430,000 years old. They attributed the scribbles to Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans. In both cases, it's unclear what meaning (if any) the "artwork" held, but the studies suggest our human ancestors and extinct relatives were capable of abstract thinking.
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