Puzzling stone rings inside French cave point to Neanderthals’ complex building abilities


Prehistoric stone rings are a significant part of the prehistoric human’s flourishing architectural/organizational ability, with fascinating examples like the Göbekli Tepe, Stonehenge and the Carnac Stones. But this time around, archaeologists may just have found evidence of Paleolithic stone rings that were possibly built by our extinct Neanderthal cousins. Judged to be around 176,000 years old, a pair of mysterious stone rings have been found inside a cave at Bruniquel in southwest France. Constructed from neatly cut-out stalagmites (mineral deposits), the natural components were (seemingly) meticulously arranged in oval patterns. In other words, the entire scope is suggestive of a pretty definitive building order (for the Paleolithic age), thus alluding to how the Neanderthals exhibited more complex behavioral patterns than they are given credit for.

According to archaeologist Jacques Jaubert (of the University of Bordeaux), who led the excavation project –

[The arranged stalagmites are 176,000 years old, thus] making these edifices among the oldest known well-dated constructions made by humans. Their presence at 336 meters (368 yards) from the entrance of the cave indicates that humans from this period had already mastered the underground environment, which can be considered a major step in human modernity.


Now of course, from the skeptical perspective, there is the scant possibility that these arrays were laid-out involuntarily by animals like bears and wolves, whose bones have been discovered in proximity. However the archaeological team has ruled out any such occurrence – since the geometrical bearing of the arrangements are quite striking. Furthermore, the rings are located somewhat deep inside the cave, while showcasing traces of fire – thus suggesting how the ‘structures’ are innately human in nature (with Neanderthals being a sub-species of the human in the genus Homo).

As for the dimensional ambit, one of the rings encompasses a substantial 172 sq ft of area, while the other smaller one has 25 sq ft of area. All of these factors naturally raises the question – what exactly was the purpose of these oval-shaped arrangements, intentionally constructed 1,100 ft deep inside a cave? The answer unfortunately can’t be precise enough, especially given the rarity of Neanderthal-based ‘architecture’. In any case, it can be conjectured that the arrangements possibly accounted for some ritual/social behavior in the belly of a sheltered cave. As Wil Roebroeks, a Neanderthal expert at the University of Leiden, Netherlands, said –

One could even envisage that groups of Neanderthal teenagers explored this underground environment deep in the cave, as teenagers tend to do, building fires, breaking off stalagmites and gradually turning them into the structures that 175,000 years later made it into (the journal) Nature.

The study was originally published in the journal Nature.

Via: BBC / Images Credit: SSAC

About the Author

Dattatreya Mandal
Dattatreya Mandal has a bachelor's degree in Architecture (and associated History of Architecture) and a fervent interest in History. Formerly, one of the co-owners of an online architectural digest, he is currently the founder/editor of Realmofhistory.com. The latter is envisaged as an online compendium that mirrors his enthusiasm for ancient history, military, mythology, and historical evolution of architecture.
       ROH Subscription

To join over 5,000 other subscribers, simply provide your email address: