Discovery of 176,500-Year-Old Human Structures in Cave Confound Scientists

The dating of these complex structures reveals that this ancient society displayed signs of modernity far earlier than scientists previously thought.

An incredible discovery may change everything we thought we knew about ancient humans. 

The Bruniquel Cave, located in southwestern France, was discovered in 1990. Inside, 1,100 feet from the cave’s entrance and within the largest chamber, nearly 400 stalagmite fragments were found purposefully arranged.

The broken rock formations had been constructed into two rings—one 13 feet by 23 feet across, the other 7 feet—and in four piles.

The rings, measuring at most just over a foot high, had some stalagmites wedged as vertical supports. 

Ripped from the cave floor, a number of the sections showed signs of having been scorched, with blackened, reddened surfaces, cracked from heat damage. Burnt bones were also found.

Twenty-six years after the cave re-discovery, scientists have now pinpointed a date—give or take 2,000 years—of the edifices’ construction. 

A study published on May 25 in the journal “Nature” has dated the edifices to 176,500 years ago—which makes these rings and piles rank among the earliest known man-made structures in the world. 

According to the current scientific understanding, the only hominin in the region at the time were Neanderthals.

The dating of these complex structures reveals that this ancient society displayed signs of modernity far earlier than scientists previously thought.

While hypothesized to have served a symbolic or ritual behavior, the true purpose of the structures remains unknown.

The constructions themselves indicate “a degree of social organization, complex spatial organization, and fire use” that exceed our previous understanding of humans’ capabilities at that time.