Neanderthals were much more than brutes - they were artists

Neanderthals were much more than brutes - they were artists

Neanderthals were much more than brutes - they were artists

But before Neanderthals went extinct - for unknown reasons - they proved their artistic and cultural prowess was similar to ours, even though their skulls were flatter and shaped differently. "It is important to look at their archaeology, their skeletons, their genes, to see what they tell us about the human story as a whole", study co-author Professor Joao Zilhao, of the University of Barcelona, added. At this point, many of them have already concluded that our ancient relatives had gotten woefully short shrift in the past, he said.

"The emergence of symbolic material culture represents a fundamental threshold in the evolution of humankind".

"Artifacts whose functional value lies not so much in their practical but rather in their symbolic use are proxies for fundamental aspects of human cognition as we know it". Neanderthals have always been dismissed as inferior to humans and it was originally proposed they should be called Homo stupidus - the stupid human.

Panel 3 in Maltravieso Cave showing 3 hand stencils (center right, center top and top left). "It also means that our own group, the one we call anatomically modern humans, is maybe not so special". Image credits: H. Collado.

The team used uranium-thorium dating, a little different from radiocarbon dating, to reach their conclusions. This dating technique relies on analyzing the isotopic content of the two elements and dating the sample by calculating the decay of Uranium 234 into Thorium 230.

The researchers are absolutely confident in their dating technique. One has been dated to at least 66,000 years ago and must have been made by a Neanderthal (colour enhanced).

But he added that the work "may remove one of the last elements that separate the behavior of Neanderthal populations from modern humans in the archaeological record". That means the artists had to be the Neanderthals.

"Dating cave art accurately and precisely, but without destroying it, has so far been hard to accomplish", adds Hoffmann.

A team of European researchers used a method called uranium-thorium (U-Th) dating on three cave sites in Spain, and found that the color pigments date back to nearly 65,000 years ago.

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Millennia later, we like to imagine that Neanderthals and humans were engaged in some kind of technological competition that humans ultimately won, while Neanderthals died out due to an inability to compete.

A new study shows that paintings in three cave sites on the Iberian Peninsula - a red linear motif in Cave of La Pasiega, a hand stencil in Maltravieso Cave, and red-painted speleothems in Ardales Cave - were created more than 64,000 years ago. "So in terms of symbolism, early modern humans and Neanderthals were similar". "This is an incredibly exciting discovery", said Standish, "which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed".

The world's oldest known cave art was crafted by Neanderthals more than 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe, showing that our extinct cousins were capable of symbolic thinking just like us, worldwide researchers said Thursday. Perforated shells were found in sediments in Cueva de los Aviones and date to between 115,000 and 120,000 years, indicating that their artistic practices can be traced even further back.

"We have examples in three caves 700 km apart, and evidence that it was a long-lived tradition".

Other experts say that we need to be cautious and that there is a need for gathering more types of evidence. "They are making deliberate decisions as to where to place these and of course it's in the depth of caves where they have to be for what seems a ritual goal", study co-author, Professor Paul Pettit, of Durham University, said.

Cave art had been previously attributed entirely to modern 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.

In other words, Neanderthals may have looked different than modern humans, but cognitively it appears they were just like us.

As for what happened to the Neanderthals, Zilhão shared that the "genetic evidence is crystal clear: Neanderthals were assimilated into the wider "modern" human gene pool".

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