Neanderthal artists made oldest-known cave paintings

By Emma Marris

Neanderthals painted caves in what is now Spain before their cousins, Homo sapiens, even arrived in Europe, according to research published today in Science1. The finding suggests that the extinct hominids, once assumed to be intellectually inferior to humans, may have been artists with complex beliefs.

Ladder-like shapes, dots and handprints were painted and stenciled deep in caves at three sites in Spain. Their precise meaning may forever be unknowable, says Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, UK, who co-authored the study, but they were almost certainly meaningful to our lost kin. “It wasn’t simply decorating your living space,” Pike says. “People were making journeys into the darkness.”

Humans are thought to have arrived in Europe from Africa around 40,000–45,000 years ago. The three caves in different parts of Spain yielded artworks that are at least 65,000 years old, according to uranium-thorium dating of calcium carbonate that had formed on top of the art.

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