Neanderthals: First Painters Of Spain?

New research carried out by British, Spanish and Portuguese scientists has raised questions about the age of Spanish cave paintings.  Once thought to be the work of early modern humans they may, in fact, have been left by an even earlier humanoid species.

The red disks of El Castillo may date back 41,000 years.

Neanderthals, once thought to be simple and ape-like, may have been the artists more than 41,000 years ago. The scientists analyzed 50 paintings in 11 caves in the northern areas of Spain using a new method of dating that measured the radioactive decay of uranium traces in stalactites forming on the tops of the paintings. The uranium could not pre-date the pictures so this gave a minimum estimate of the age of the images.

If the initial analysis is confirmed it would have profound implications on how and when early abstract and advanced thinking as well as the development of art and even language evolved. It might place this development hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

The research, published in the journal Science, suggests European cave art started up to 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. In the El Castillo cave, the scientists found one example of a red disc symbol dating back no less than 40,800 years. A stenciled hand outline at the same site may have been painted more than 37,300 years ago, while a large club symbol in the Altamira cave was at least 35,600 years old.

Neanderthals and early modern humans co-existed in Europe for around 10,000 years before Neanderthals vanished about 30,000 years ago. Both are believed to have evolved from a common African ancestor roughly half a million years ago.

Co-author Professor Joao Zilhao, from the University of Barcelona, believes the Spanish art works were painted by Neanderthals – although more convincing proof is needed.

“It would not be surprising if the Neanderthals were indeed Europe’s first cave artists,” he said. “While this may come as a shock, in the context of what we have learned about the Neanderthals over the last decade it really should not be very surprising.

“In probabilistic terms, I would say there is a strong chance that these results imply Neanderthal ownership, but I will not say that we have proven it.”

It’s no surprise that the cradle of art may have been in Spain. Neanderthals may not be El Greco or Goya but what they painted is as moving and spectacular as anything in El Prado. If the history of art and mankind gives you a thrill consider letting Conexus be your guide. Our study abroad programs will give you a Spanish education like no other. Please visit our website for information on how we can show you Spain like it was meant to be seen.

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