Menu

Oldest Known Paintings Created by Neanderthals, Not Modern Humans

The animal pictures and hand stencils were made in caves in Spain thousands of years before Homo sapiens arrived in Europe.

Feb 26, 2018
Catherine Offord

Hand stencils in Maltravieso Cave in SpainH. COLLADOThe oldest known cave paintings were created more than 64,000 years ago, and were not made by modern humans, according to a study published last week (February 23) in Science. Instead, the report concludes, the artists were probably Neanderthals. The findings add to mounting evidence that our ancient hominin cousins were capable of greater cultural and creative complexity than generally assumed.

“Neanderthals appear to have had a cultural competence that was shared by modern humans,” John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who wasn’t involved with the study, tells National Geographic. “They were not dumb brutes, they were recognizably human.”

The paintings, distributed across three caves in Spain, consist of black and red images of animals, as well as dots, hand stencils, and handprints. Using uranium-thorium dating, the University of Southampton’s Alistair Pike and colleagues found that the paintings were at least 64,000 years old—predating the estimated arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe by around 20,000 years, but millennia after Neanderthals had settled on the continent. “Our dating results show that the cave art at these three sites in Spain is much older than previously thought,” Pike says in a statement. It “must therefore have been created by Neanderthals.”

“This constitutes a major breakthrough in the field of human evolution studies,” Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University who was not involved in the study, tells The New York Times. “Neanderthal authorship of some cave art is a fact.”

For study coauthor Joao Zilhao of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona, the findings point to further parallels between modern humans and Neanderthals. The two species “shared symbolic thinking and must have been cognitively indistinguishable,” he says in the statement. “On our search for the origins of language and advanced human cognition we must therefore look much farther back in time, more than half a million years ago, to the common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans.”

Correction (February 27): This article’s original wording suggested that Neanderthals were not humans. We have thus changed “humans” to “modern humans” in the headline and main text to remove ambiguity. The Scientist regrets the error.

November 2018

Intelligent Science

Wrapping our heads around human smarts

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

The Lab of the Future: Alinity Poised to Reinvent Clinical Diagnostic Testing and Help Improve Healthcare

The Lab of the Future: Alinity Poised to Reinvent Clinical Diagnostic Testing and Help Improve Healthcare

Every minute counts when waiting for accurate diagnostic test results to guide critical care decisions, making today's clinical lab more important than ever. In fact, nearly 70 percent of critical care decisions are driven by a diagnostic test.

LGC announces new, integrated, global portfolio brand, Biosearch Technologies, representing genomic tools for mission critical customer applications

LGC announces new, integrated, global portfolio brand, Biosearch Technologies, representing genomic tools for mission critical customer applications

LGC’s Genomics division announced it is transforming its branding under LGC, Biosearch Technologies, a unified portfolio brand integrating optimised genomic analysis technologies and tools to accelerate scientific outcomes.

DefiniGEN licenses CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology from Broad Institute to develop cell models for optimized metabolic disease drug development

DefiniGEN licenses CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology from Broad Institute to develop cell models for optimized metabolic disease drug development

DefiniGEN Ltd are pleased to announce the commercial licensing of CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology from Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in the USA, to develop human cell disease models to support preclinical metabolic disease therapeutic programmes.