Mounting evidence suggests Neanderthals were not the brutes they were characterised as decades ago.
But art, a high expression of abstract thought, was long considered to be the exclusive preserve of our own species.
The scattered candidates for artistic expression by Neanderthals have not met with universal acceptance.
However, the geometric pattern identified in Gibraltar, on the southern tip of Europe, was uncovered beneath undisturbed sediments that have also yielded Neanderthal tools.
Details of the discovery by an international team of researchers has been published in the journal PNAS.
There is now ample evidence that Neanderthal intellectual abilities may have been underestimated. Recent finds suggest they intentionally buried their dead, adorned themselves with feathers, painted their bodies with black and red pigments, and consumed a more varied diet than had previously been supposed.
One of the study’s authors, Prof Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, said the latest find “brings the Neanderthals closer to us, yet again”.
I get the feeling we made the Neanderthals out to be such brutes to A) Make us feel better about ourselves, and B) Make us feel less bad about having wiped them out.