Tech UPTechnologyNeanderthals were the world's first artists

Neanderthals were the world's first artists

One of the key traits of human behavior is the ability to use, interpret, and respond to symbols. We know that Homo sapiens did this for at least 80,000 years. In contrast, its ancestor in some areas of Eurasia, the Neanderthal, a human ancestor that became extinct about 40,000 years ago, has always been considered an uneducated and behaviorally inferior being.

Now, a new study led by the University of Southampton (UK) and the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anstropology (Germany) and published in the journal Science , challenges our view on Homo sapiens by showing that Neanderthals were capable of creating art. cave paintings, making them the first artists on the face of the earth.

The dating made to the cave paintings of Cantabria, Extremadura and Andalusia , caves that can be visited, have determined that the Neanderthals who lived in the Iberian Peninsula 65,000 years ago already painted cave art on the walls of the caves: figures of animals or geometric shapes such as dotted lines, as well as its signature as a signature, probably using black and especially red pigments.

As it is, the paintings of these three Spanish caves were created more than 64,000 years ago, 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe . This means that Paleolithic (Ice Age) rock art – including animal images, dots, and geometric signs – must have been made by Neanderthals , the only human inhabitants of Europe at the time.

Scientists used a cutting-edge dating technique called uranium-thorium (or thorium-230 dating) to determine the age of the paintings. This type of dating provides much more reliable results than other methods such as radiocarbon dating, which can give false age estimates.

The uranium-thorium method involves dating small carbonate deposits that have accumulated on top of cave paintings. These contain traces of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium, which indicate when the deposits formed and therefore give a minimum age for what lies beneath.

“This is an incredibly exciting discovery that suggests that Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed ,” says co-author archaeologist Chris Standish. “Our results show that these paintings are by far the oldest known in the world, and were created at least 20,000 years before modern humans came to Europe from Africa.”

Researchers from the UK, Germany, Spain and France analyzed more than 60 carbonate samples from three cave sites in Spain: La Pasiega (northeast Spain), Maltravieso (western Spain) and Ardales (southwest Spain).

All three caves contain red (ocher) or black paintings of animal groups, geometric dots and signs, as well as hand stencils and engravings.

According to the researchers, the creation of the art must have involved such sophisticated behavior as choosing a place, planning the light source and mixing pigments.

“The rise of symbolic material culture represents a fundamental threshold in the evolution of humanity. It is one of the main pillars of what makes us human,” said Dirk Hoffmann, leader of the study.

Study co-author Paul Pettitt of Durham University commented: “Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in significant places. The art is not an isolated accident. We have examples in three caves 700 km apart, and evidence that it was a long-lived tradition. It is quite possible that similar rock art in other caves in Western Europe is also of Neanderthal origin. “

Reference: DL Hoffmann at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany el al., “U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neanderthal origin of Iberian cave art,” Science (2018).… 1126 / science.aap7778

Images credit: Breuil et al / © P. Saura

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