Mysterious Stone Circles of Bruniquel Cave

Sealed since the Pleistocene, Bruniquel Cave is located in southwest France, in a region littered with decorated caves and other Paleolithic sites. In 1990, spelunkers excavated its entrance and squeezed through, finding signs of long-vanished cave bears and other extinct megafauna just inside. But the cave’s real treasure lay in a damp chamber more than 1,000 feet (330 meters) from the entrance. There, several large, layered ring-like structures protruded from the cave floor, the seemingly unmistakable craftwork of builders with a purpose.

“All visitors have noticed the presence of these structures, from the first speleologists,” says Jacques Jaubert of the University of Bordeaux, a coauthor of the study describing the finding.

It would take decades for scientists to begin deciphering the enigmatic circles, an endeavor slowed by restricted access to the cave and the untimely death of the archaeologist who began work on the site in the 1990s.

In 2013, Jaubert and his team were finally able to bring Bruniquel’s secrets into the light.

“The cave was very well preserved, with very few visits, almost none,” he says, noting that the site is on private property and is regulated by the French government. “The structures are spectacular and have virtually no equivalent for that period, and even for more recent periods.”

They are roughly 175,000 years old, which means they easily predate the arrival of modern humans in Europe. They were built at a time when Neanderthals were the only hominins in the region.
 


The stalagmite structures are 50 centimetres high in places, says Jaubert. The extraordinary constructions are made from nearly 400 stalagmites that have been yanked from the ground and stacked on top of one another to produce rudimentary walls on the damp cave floor.

“That must take time [to shift],” he says – although exactly how long it took the Neanderthals to build the structures isn’t clear. “As often in prehistory, measuring time is not easy.”

What we do know is that the structures were built in dark, challenging conditions and the builders had no natural light to help them.

The most prominent formations are two ringed walls, built four layers deep in places, which appear to have been propped up with stalagmites wedged in place as vertical stays. The largest of the walls is nearly seven metres across and, where intact, stands up to 40cm high.

“This is completely different to anything we have seen before. I find it very mysterious,” said Marie Soressi, an archaeologist at Leiden University, who was not involved in the research. Unique in the history of Neanderthal achievements, the structures rank among the earliest human building projects ever discovered.

Parts of the walls show clear signs of fire damage, with the stalagmites blackened or reddened and fractured from the heat, leading researchers to suspect that the Neanderthals embedded fireplaces in the structures to illuminate the cave.

Sources:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/neanderthals-caves-rings-building-france-archaeology/
 
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