Researchers at the University of Southampton have published research which shows evidence that a particular cave on the island of Jersey in the English Channel was used as a shelter by Neanderthals. What makes this find fascinating and mysterious is the fact that the same cave was used for over 180,000 years as a shelter as Neanderthals migrated due to shifts in climate.
In a university press release, lead researcher Andy Shaw states that a cave on the island known as La Cotte de St Brelade, seems to have been some sort of recurring pilgrimage site for Neanderthals:
La Cotte seems to have been a special place for Neanderthals. They kept making deliberate journeys to reach the site over many, many generations. We can use the stone tools they left behind to map how they were moving through landscapes, which are now beneath the English Channel.
It is still unknown how Neanderthals managed to navigate to this same cave over such a long period of time, or whether it is just a coincidence owing to Jersey’s unique geography made it easy to spot for nomadic groups of the early hominids.
In their article in the archaeology journal Antiquity, the researchers argue that whatever the reason was for its continued use, Neanderthals’ use of this cave over vast periods of time indicates a higher level of abstract intelligence in Neanderthals than was once speculated:
Despite changes in the types of behaviour recorded at the site, La Cotte emerged as a persistent place in the memory and landscape of its early hominin inhabitants. The site's status as a persistent place for these people suggests a level of social and cognitive development permitting reference to and knowledge of places distant in time and space.
More and more evidence is being discovered that suggests Neanderthals were a lot more advanced than has been previously thought. Earlier this year, an unexplained stone structure was found in a cave in France which shows Neanderthals were capable of rudimentary construction. More recently, Neanderthal jewelry was found, implying that these early human ancestors perhaps had more intelligence and cultural sophistication than we’ve been giving them credit for. This discovery makes one wonder: hundreds of thousands of years from now, what strange pilgrimage sites will alien archaeologists pore over to learn about the mysteries of the humans of our time?