Prehistoric Humans Built Something Amazing… and No One Knows Why

Scholars recently announced an extraordinary discovery, uncovering one of the oldest known structures made by humans.  The site is Bruniquel Cave in southwest France.  The discovery lies almost 1,000 feet into the darkness of the cave, past narrow passageways that can only be reached by crawling on all fours.

Here, some 175,000 years ago, someone broke off more than two tons of stalagmites and rearranged them into stone circles.  There are a total of six structures made up of 400 large stalagmites, with the largest circle several feet high and more than 20 feet across.  The total site covers more than 360 feet across the floor of the cave.  There is evidence that fires were lit atop the stalagmites, and there are charred pieces of animal bones within the circles.

Were these stone circles built for religious or spiritual rituals?  The researchers are careful not to draw too many conclusions.  But if the structures have been dated correctly, they predate Homo sapiens by more than 100,000 years.  Instead, they would have been built by Neanderthals, a similar but separate species of early humans.

Neanderthals existed for 300,000 years and briefly coexisted with modern humans, but scientists do not know why they vanished some 40,000 years ago.  Neanderthals are stereotypically thought of as unintelligent brutes, but recent research has shown them to be social and intelligent.  They are known to have used fire and made stone tools.  But this is the first evidence that they inhabited caves or had the sophistication to build complex constructions.

Agilent equipment, including the Agilent Bioanalyzer system and DNA LabChip, has been used to study the mitochondrial DNA of Neanderthal remains.

Italian scientists used an Agilent Bioanalyzer system to compare the genetic materials of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.  German and Japanese scientists used an Agilent GC and columns to study the Neanderthal diet.  And European scientists used an Agilent ICP-MS to study the Neanderthals’ resilience to climate change, believed to be the main cause of their demise.


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