Did Neanderthals paint too?

July 25 2022

Image of Did Neanderthals paint too?

Picture: New Scientist

In The New Scientist, Michael Marshall looks at the problems of trying to date cave art, and wonders - if we've got it wrong - whether earlier hominids might not have been artists too. It turns out that not only is something of the technical analysis of cave art questionable (carbon dating, and so on) but our cave art connoisseurship might have been out too:

If a lot of the given ages are spurious, our ideas about who made the art are also spurious.

A succession of hominins have lived in western Europe and might theoretically have made the region’s cave art. Modern humans are the most recent inhabitants, having permanently settled in the region around 45,000 years ago after emerging from Africa. Before that, Europe and western Asia were inhabited by Neanderthals for hundreds of thousands of years. And before that, other hominins like Homo antecessor were around.

If all the cave art in western Europe is less than 30,000 years old, it could only have been made by our species. But in the cases where researchers like Pike have managed to get reliable dates, that hasn’t always proved true.

Back in 2012, Pike’s team showed that a red dot on the wall of El Castillo cave in northern Spain was at least 40,800 years old. That was old enough to be borderline: Neanderthals were still around, so they could have made the dot.

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