World News

Earliest engravings?

A series of marks, found in the La Roche-Cotard cave on the north bank of the Loire River in France, could be the earliest examples of Neanderthal engravings yet found.

Surveys of the cave walls in 2013 and 2016 found a series of shallow engravings, including more than 400 lines, dots, and patterns, spread across eight panels. Using experimental archaeology, researchers found that these markings were most likely purposefully made by hominins, since they were not randomly distributed as would be the case if they were the result of animal scratches, natural geological processes, or toolmarks from the excavation of the site in 1912. OSL dating showed that the cave had been sealed shut by flood sediments around 57,000 years ago, well before Homo sapiens arrived in the area, suggesting instead that the markings probably were made by Neanderthals.

The research has been published in the online journal PLOS ONE (

An Ice Age mystery

The head of a 35,000-year-old ivory figurine, which was found in Hohle Fels cave, southern Germany, in 1999, was previously believed to depict a horse. In a recent stroke of luck, however, another excavation in the cave, carried out by researchers from the University of Tübingen, revealed the figurine’s body – with the neck and shoulders matching up perfectly with the previously discovered head. This shows that the artefact is definitely not equine, but researchers are currently divided on whether it depicts a cave bear or cave lion.

While the debate continues, the newly expanded figurine has been placed back on display in the Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren.

Image: © University of Tübingen, R Litzenberg

Lake-dwelling site discovered in Albania

What may be the oldest pile-dwelling site yet found in Europe was recently discovered by archaeologists in Lake Ohrid, which straddles the border between Albania and North Macedonia.

Divers working near the village of Lin, on the Albanian side of the lake, have identified the remains of a Neolithic village that once sat perched on wooden piles. The remains cover an area c.300m long and 200m wide, which appears to have been surrounded by fortifications made up of thousands of pine posts. The depth of the lake during prehistory is currently not known, meaning that it remains unconfirmed whether the village would have been completely over the shallows of the lake or merely on its marshy shores. Dendrochronological and radiocarbon dating of the wood piles suggests that the site was used intermittently over a period of almost 1,000 years, with occupation probably starting around 5900-5800 BC.