Neanderthals created cave art
February 23, 2018 2:37 AM   Subscribe

Two papers published yesterday suggest that Neanderthals were creating cave art in Europe thousands of years before modern humans arrived on the continent. As well as using pigments on cave walls, they were painting lines and one, very spine-tingling, hand print. Palaeolithic archaeologist Becky Wragg Sykes on the findings and some more context.

The papers:

Dating from three caves on the Iberian peninsula: a red linear motif in La Pasiega (Cantabria), a hand stencil in Maltravieso (Extremadura), and red-painted speleothems in Ardales (Andalucía).

Dating symbolic finds from Cueva de los Aviones (southeast Spain) that suggest they were made 115,000 to 120,000 years ago.
posted by Helga-woo (7 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
That is really fascinating. Considering various other animals have been observed to paint then it becomes less or a stretch to think of Neanderthals doing it. But there is a world of difference between an animal which picks up a brush because it has been trained to do so (some elephants) versus one which appears to be intrinsically motivated towards expressing itself through painting (some primates). And going the additional steps to formulate not just a painting tool - but also some pigments - which seems to be what is happening here - exceeds any of that. Finally, there is the idea of using a painting to depict something like the self - which seems like the most plausible reason for bothering to paint one's hand outline on a wall.

It must be unusual to find a cave which has been decorated by Neanderthals but not later on by humans. So, if Neanderthals were budding artists, then humans have been dissing them by biting their tags since we showed up on the scene. How rude!
posted by rongorongo at 4:21 AM on February 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

It might be that the only thing that distinguishes our species is that we're really into making categorical distinctions.
posted by bendybendy at 7:43 AM on February 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

Some people try to pick up girls and get called a doofus/This never happened to Homo neanderthalensis
posted by thelonius at 8:35 AM on February 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

Jonathan Jones, The Guardian's art critic, wrote an article called So Neanderthals made abstract art? This astounding discovery humbles every human.
posted by Kattullus at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

*hears Neanderthal whistle* *appears*

This is more evidence that Neanderthals had symbolic thought and since the last bits of evidence that were taught to me in Uni were a bit thinner, I'm so glad this has been discovered. The best evidence so far when I took my classes on it, was some sort of cup symbol on a stone placed over a grave, which has been contested and argued about forever, (It could have been an accidental scratching! Just because it's a stone over a grave doesn't mean its a headstone!) A lot of people for a long time got really invested in Neanderthal's being dumb cavemen, and their rationality flies out the window when new evidence pops up refuting that. Luckily that impulse among anthropologists seems to be fading. The other evidence for more complex thought comes from the fact that the Neanderthal's buried their dead, and appeared to have placed flowers over the bodies.

The funniest refutation of that one, is that the flower filled graves exist in a part of the world that has native hamsters, and the theory was that hamsters burrowed their way on top of the bodies and dragged flowers behind them and into their new cozy corpse filled dens, and that's why there were flowers on top of bodies in Neanderthal graves, not because Neanderthals were complex hominids capable of complex symbolic thought.

Seriously. Wild Hamsters.

But cave paintings... that's a lot more viable. And in the articles they talk about necklaces Neanderthal's made from raptor talons! I'm a very happy hominid today!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:35 AM on February 23, 2018 [16 favorites]

Jonathan Jones, The Guardian's art critic, wrote an article called So Neanderthals made abstract art? This astounding discovery humbles every human.

Noted, in particular, for its observation that it could be the Neanderthals who taught Home Sapiens cave art.
posted by rongorongo at 10:09 AM on February 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

To me, this fits perfectly. Neanderthals with art and ritual - Sapiens with martial urges and technical innovation. And we have a mixture today.

(Hamsters? Seriously??)
posted by Ilira at 2:46 AM on March 3, 2018

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