Earth's first artists? Oldest known cave paintings created by 'sophisticated' Neanderthals

26 February, 2018, 09:42 | Author: Diane Mills
  • Ancient cave paintings turn out to be by Neanderthals, not humans

In fact, it is likely that such an ability was present in the ancestors we share with Neanderthals, pushing it even further back in evolutionary history. "We see them doing human things". "People are very prejudiced against Neanderthals", he says.

Alistair Pike, Professor of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Southampton and co-director of the study, said: "Soon after the discovery of the first of their fossils in the 19th century, Neanderthals were portrayed as brutish and uncultured, incapable of art and symbolic behaviour, and some of these views persist today".

The researchers said the cave painters were making "symbolic artifacts", whose value lay not in their practical use but in their symbolic use. "For me it wouldn't be surprising to find rock art made by neandertals, but unfortunately I'm not fully convinced", Ríos Garaizar told BuzzFeed News by email.

A red hand stencil.

The cave art dates back to 64,000 years ago, the team at the University of Southampton in Britain, Germany's Max Planck Institute, Spain's University of Barcelona and others reported. Image credits: H. Collado. However, uranium-thorium dating provides much more reliable results than methods such as radiocarbon dating, which can give false age estimates. "The only way to constrain the age of a given painting is by dating the calcite found on top, or under it".

An worldwide team of researchers, led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of Southampton, dated cave paintings at three sites in Spain to more than 64,000 years ago.

"That material culture, archaeologically visible manifestations, only appears after 200,000 years ago probably means that it is at a time when individual and social interactions became so complex that conventions, signs, and symbols became necessary for the transmission of information about status, territory, ethnicity, rights over the resources of land, etc.", Zilhão explained. "With an age in excess of 64,000 years it predates the earliest traces of modern humans in Europe by more than 20,000 years". Assuming the dating is accurate, then these paintings would be the earliest known cave art in the world.

Standish: We dated carbonate crusts that were in direct association with cave art by uranium-thorium dating.

He said the findings reflect "some impressive technical developments in dating techniques in cave contexts, issues that have always posed a challenge for our understanding the timing of key events in human evolution".

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Cave paintings and other manifestations of the fine arts of ancient "Palaeolithic Venus" and other statues used to be considered a distinctive trait of our ancestors penetrated into the territory of Europe is about 45-40 thousand years ago. The only way to clearly show that Neanderthals came up with the idea on their own was to date their work to before they met humans - and that's exactly what this study does.

Results indicated the shells were around 115,000 years old.

Neanderthals also dyed and decorated marine shells.

The jewelry found in the Spanish Cueva de los Aviones is older than anything similar found that was made by modern humans, they wrote. The art is not a one-off accident.

"It is quite possible that similar cave art in other caves in Western Europe is of Neanderthal origin as well", he concluded, noting that the findings are opening the door to re-evaluating who produced other cave art previously credited to humans.

"This is certainly just the beginning of a new chapter in the study of ice age rock art", says Gerd-Christian Weniger of the Foundation Neanderthal Museum Mettmann, one of the leaders of the Ardales excavations.

Taken together, the cave paintings and shells indicate the ability to think symbolically and creatively was not unique to modern humans. These discoveries suggest that our reputedly boorish cousins were just as sophisticated as humans. "It is time to finally and completely stop treating the Neanderthals as semi-human and think of them as sophisticated past people living in a hard world", Trinkaus said in an e-mail. "This is perhaps where we should be looking", Pike said.

The results of the study were published earlier this week in the journal Science.

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