Approximately 176,500 years ago, in a cave in what is now called France, Neanderthals cut 400 pieces of stalagmite into regular lengths and arranged them in two circles and four piles. In 1990, a teenager and a group of local cavers rediscovered them. Only now, though, have scientists estimated just how old they are—dating well beyond the history of Homo sapiens in this area.
This is one of the earliest examples of construction ever found, and the first example of Neanderthal construction that scientists have dated. It shows that these early homonins explored underground and could use fire and reveals an unknown aspect of their culture. It’s not clear what the circle of stones was used for, but it’s possible it had a ritual function, since there’s no evidence that anyone actually lived in the cave.
The more we learn about Neanderthals, the smarter and more complex was their lifestyle, using fire, creating design art. All before the newer iteration of humans expanded into regions already populated by our older cousins.