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In an article recently published in the journal Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Richard Coss, a professor emeritus of psychology, questions why there isn’t Neanderthal art in the archaeological record. He seems to skip the obvious, i.e. that is it hasn’t been found yet, and jumps to the conclusion that Homo sapiens has superior hand eye coordination. Coss writes,

“Neanderthals could mentally visualize previously seen animals from working memory, but they were unable to translate those mental images effectively into the coordinated hand-movement patterns required for drawing.”

Coss, taught art early in his academic career. His previous research focused on art and human evolution. He used photos and film to study the strokes of charcoal drawings and engravings of animals made by human artists 28,000 to 32,000 years ago in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France. He concludes that the visual imagery employed in drawing regulates arm movements in a manner similar to how hunters visualize the arc their spears must make to hit their animal targets,

The argument is full of unfounded assumptions, one of which is that modern humans were more intelligent than Neanderthals. This message is a pervasively old mentality. There is plenty of evidence that Neanderthals were intelligent and capable to modify their environment in many forms. For example, Neanderthals engaged in symbolic culture, they buried their dead, decorated caves with rock formation. They used red ochre. There is also evidence they traveled by boat, used toothpicks, created jewelry twice and crafted bone art. They even made musical instruments. Just several days ago, we shared a study on how Neanderthals wielded fire to modify tools.

In El Castillo cave, hand stencils join a red disk (not pictured) that may be Earth's oldest cave art.  PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PEDRO SAURA VIA SCIENCE/AAAS

In El Castillo cave, hand stencils join a red disk (not pictured) that may be Earth’s oldest cave art. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PEDRO SAURA VIA SCIENCE/AAAS

His sloppy argument is based on a loose correlation that drawing is a full-armed movement and spear-throwing is a whole armed movement, therefore you can do both or neither. To make an elaborate argument that there isn’t yet Neanderthal art found, therefore modern humans were superior is just baseless and ignorant. Furthermore, I would counter Cross’ argument that sites like the art in cave along northern Spain’s Cantabrian Sea coast, called El Castillo, and also cave paintings in Málaga, Spain were made by Neanderthals.

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