Neanderthals have done it again. They’ve reminded us Homo sapiens that we’re not as creative, original, or special as we’ve thought for the past 150 years. Last week, archaeologists published two astonishing reports that provide the most compelling evidence to date that our evolutionary cousins not only had the cognitive wherewithal to create art — specifically cave paintings — but they also did so well before modern humans entered the European Pleistocene.
In the journal Science, an international team of archaeologists reported that three caves in southeastern Spain — La Pasiega, Maltravieso, and Ardales — contain cave art that’s at least 64,800 years old. These sites are not new or unknown to archaeologists. But pinning down exactly when the cave art was painted has been a problem for decades. (The La Pasiega panel was originally sketched by researchers in 1913.) Dating experts, working in conjunction with archaeologists, developed a new set of techniques, carefully sampling geological material near the art in order to pin down the most likely time of painting.
The results have rocked the archaeological world, because the paintings appear to predate the arrival of modern humans in Europe by 20,000 years. In other words, the art comes from a time when the area was only occupied by Neanderthals.
Exciting! You can read and see much more, and there’s video at Hyperallergic.