World’s Oldest Cave Art Made By Neanderthals

In two new studies, published yesterday in Science and Science Advances, researchers Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, João Zilhão, a University of Barcelona archaeologist and Dirk Hoffmann, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who specializes in dating minerals lay out the case that 65,000 year old murals and 115,000 year old beads predate the arrival of modern Homo sapiens to Europe. The dating techniques analyze the mineral crusts overlying the paintings and the seashells and pigments. They actually doubled the age estimate Zilhão got when he examined the same artifacts in a 2010 study.

In a cave in Spain, scientists found this ladder shape made of red horizontal and vertical lines. The artwork dates to more than 64,000 years ago, suggesting it was created by Neanderthals. PHOTOGRAPH BY P. SAURA.
In a cave in Spain, scientists found this ladder shape made of red horizontal and vertical lines. The artwork dates to more than 64,000 years ago, suggesting it was created by Neanderthals. PHOTOGRAPH BY P. SAURA.

They make a leap is someone else must have created them… that someone else is Neanderthals. They argue that Neanderthals were the cognitive equals of Homo sapiens and that common ancestor may be capable of creating symbolic art. Margaret Conkey, an emerita professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an authority on prehistoric cave art, challenges this leap, stating, “Does a date alone equal a Neanderthal presence?”

This all directly challenges Cross’ study I contested earlier this month.

7 thoughts on “World’s Oldest Cave Art Made By Neanderthals

  1. I have always been interested in human migration out of Africa and would like to know if anyone knows how the Neanderthals got to Europe and Spain in the first place…were they monkeys or half-apes when they arrived and THEN evolved into the Neanderthal caveman afterwards? Or were they in the Neanderthal shape and form at the time of departure from North Africa or what? Or did Neanderthal evolve from monkeys and apes that were already there in Spain and never did migrate from Africa at all? Any opinions to help me out?

    1. Hi Edwin, there was no problem for Neandertal dispersals. All Homo populations, at least since early-Pleistocene dispersed along coasts & rivers: about 1.8 Ma we find Homo from Mojokerto on Java to Dmanisi in Georgia to Turkana in the Rift: they must have followed the African & Eurasian coasts, and from thecoasts went inland along rivers, or even crossed the seas to reach islands such as Flores (min.17 km oversea), Sulawesi, Crete, Cyprus & the Dodekanesos. They didn’t need boats to do that, but were anatomically far better swimmers than we are (H.sapiens can swim across the Challel min.32 km).
      Neandertals in the classic “shape” probably evolved in Europe, but reaching Europe was no problem. Most likely, they were predominantly wetland dwellers who seasonally (once every year) followed the river to the Mediterranean or Atlantic coast, google e.g. “Ape and Human Evolution 2018 made easy”.

  2. Thanks a lot, very interesting, although not really unexpected. Neandertals probably used black mangane dioxide as well as yellow & red ochre (which protects naked skin against bacteria) to paint their bodies, and that they carried pierced shells (which indicated access to seafood, rich in brain-specific nutrients such as DHA). They lived in wetlands & around rivers, and probably seasonally followed the river to the Mediterranean or Atlantic coast (e.g. see my 2013 paper in Hum.Evol. 28:237-266, or google “Ape & Human Evolution made easy 2018” + refs therein). They had brains at least as large as ours, and were presumably no less dextrous than we are. Much earlier, at least 0.43 mill.yrs ago, Homo erectus already engraved abstract patterns on shells (Joordens et al. 2015 Nature 518:228-231). It is thus of no surprise that Neandertals created paintings in riverside caves.

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