Did Neanderthals Play Tic-Tac-Toe?

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Did Neanderthals Play Tic-Tac-Toe?


When we think of Neanderthals, we often picture long-haired, shaggy-looking prehistoric people with the intelligence of a buffalo.

But new artwork found in a Gibraltar cave suggests otherwise, and it looks very much like a game we're all familiar with. New Scientist reports no one can say for sure if the artwork was just "Idle doodle ... Stone Age tic-tac-toe, or the first evidence of Neanderthal art."

Regardless of what it is, it's making the Internet chatter because it would mean Neanderthals, our ancient ancestors, possibly weren't as primitive as we all thought.

Did Neanderthals Play Tic-Tac-Toe?
FILE - The March 20, 2009 file photo shows the prehistoric Neanderthal man "N", left, as he is visited for the first time by another reconstruction of a homo neanderthalensis called "Wilma", right, at the Neanderthal museum in Mettmann, Germany. The world famous fossil "N" is estimated being about 40.000 years old; "Wilma" was built by Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis for the National Geographic magazine on a skeleton from the American museum of natural history in New York. Theories about when the last Neanderthals walked the Earth may have to be revised, according to a study that suggests they became extinct in their last refuge in Spain much earlier than previously thought. Previous dating of bone fossils found at Neanderthal sites in the region put the youngest at about 35,000 years. But researchers from Australia and Europe re-examined the bones using an improved method to filter out contamination and concluded that the remains are about 50,000 years old. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, file)
Nach rund 40.000 Jahren treffen am Freitag, 20. Maerz 2009, erstmals die beiden Neanderthaler "N", links, und "Wilma" im Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann aufeinander. Die Rekonstruktion des 1856 in der Feldhofer Grotte gefundenen "N" steht seit 2006 im Museum und hat nun einen weiblichen Part in der fuer das amerikanische Magazin National Geopgraphic rekonstruierten "Wilma" gefunden. Sie wurde von den niederlaendischen Kuenstler Alfons und Adrie Kennis auf einem idealisierten Neanderthalerskelett des American Museum of Natural History in New York aufgebaut. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) --- The prehistoric Neanderthal man "N", left, is visited for the first time by another reconstruction of a homo neanderthalensis called "Wilma", right, at the Neanderthal museum in Mettmann, Germany, Friday, March 20, 2009. The world famous fossil "N" is about 40.000 years old and was found 1856 at the Feldhofer grotto at the Neander Valley in Mettmann, western Germany. "Wilma" was built by Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis for the National Geographic magazine on a skeleton from the American museum of natural history in New York. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Nach rund 40.000 Jahren treffen am Freitag, 20. Maerz 2009, erstmals die beiden Neanderthaler "N", links, und "Wilma" im Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann aufeinander. Die Rekonstruktion des 1856 in der Feldhofer Grotte gefundenen "N" steht seit 2006 im Museum und hat nun einen weiblichen Part in der fuer das amerikanische Magazin National Geopgraphic rekonstruierten "Wilma" gefunden. Sie wurde von den niederlaendischen Kuenstler Alfons und Adrie Kennis auf einem idealisierten Neanderthalerskelett des American Museum of Natural History in New York aufgebaut. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) --- The prehistoric Neanderthal man "N", left, is visited for the first time by another reconstruction of a homo neanderthalensis called "Wilma", right, at the Neanderthal museum in Mettmann, Germany, Friday, March 20, 2009. The world famous fossil "N" is about 40.000 years old and was found 1856 at the Feldhofer grotto at the Neander Valley in Mettmann, western Germany. "Wilma" was built by Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis for the National Geographic magazine on a skeleton from the American museum of natural history in New York. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
A Neanderthal jaw bone found in the Vindija cave site in Croatia is shown in this undated photo. Neanderthals and modern humans may have coexisted in central Europe for thousands of years, possibly even mating, according to new radiocarbon dating of this and other bones from the Vindija cave Monday, Oct. 25, 1999. (AP Photo/Croatian Academy of Sciences via NIU)
The skeleton of a Neanderthal found at Shanidar cave in Irbil and datable to about 45000 years ago, is displayed at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. Tens of thousands of artifacts chronicling some 7,000 years of civilization in Mesopotamia are believed to have been looted from Iraq in the chaos which followed the the US-led invasion in 2003. Despite international efforts to track items down, fewer than half of the artifacts have so far been retrieved. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
ITALY - JUNE 15: Neanderthal fossil skull (Homo neanderthalensis), profile, found in Mount Circeo, Lazio, Italy. Rome, Museo Di Paleontologia (Paleonthology Museum) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Reproduction of a Neanderthal woman of Sidon Cave in Asturias, rooms of prehistory at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images)
View taken on July 8, 2010 of a mannequin of a Tautavel Man presented at the prehistoric museum in Tautavel. The European Centre for Prehistoric Research was established in 1992 by French prehistorian Henry de Lumley and is located on the premises of the new museum of Tautavel, the European Prehistoric Centre. Henry de Lumley and his team are at the origin of the discovery of the Tautavel Man, an ancestor of Neanderthal Man, in the Caune de l'Arago cave. AFP PHOTO / ERIC CABANIS (Photo credit should read ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Scientists say it could be the most compelling evidence yet for Neanderthal art,"BBC reports.

BBC explains that's because art is abstract thought, which "was long considered to be the exclusive preserve of our own species. ... [and] the geometric pattern identified in Gibraltar ... was uncovered beneath undisturbed sediments that have also yielded Neanderthal tools."

So, artwork AND tools? Score one for the Neanderthals, zero for all those scientists who ever doubted them.

And like all fine art, even if it is the upwards of 39,000 years old, it already has its critics.

"It just looks like a bunch of lines, I don't know if I'd call it artwork."
​"Well, they're Neanderthals for gosh sakes!"

Nobody can catch a break these days. Scientific American says scientists have been excavating the cave since the late 1980s. The discovery was published in the journal PNAS.

And if this is evidence that Neanderthals were smarter than we all thought, it wouldn't be the first. Other studies have sought to prove they were actually just as smart as modern humans, but that would be a whole other story.
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