Contrary to popular belief, the mental capacities of early humans and Neanderthals might have been “indistinguishable.”
Sarah Cascone, February 23, 2018
Paintings in Spain’s La Pasiega cave, thought to have been made 64,000 years ago by Neanderthals. Photo courtesy of C.D Standish, A.W.G. Pike, and D.L. Hoffmann/Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Rather than using carbon dating, the new studies, which were published this week in the journals Science and Science Advances, used radioisotopes of uranium and thorium. Rock and calcium carbonate formations atop the ochre markings indicate that the artwork is an astonishing 65,000 years old—made a good 15,000 years before the Indonesian hand stencils once thought to be the world’s oldest works of art.
“The only species that were around at that time were Neanderthals,” Alistair Pike, an archaeologist from the University of Southampton in England, and member of the research team, told NPR. “So, therefore, the paintings must’ve been made by them.”
The first humans didn’t make their way to Spain until some 20,000 years later, so they couldn’t possibly be responsible. The hand stencil, in particular, had to have been made intentionally, the artist making the pigment and spraying it over his hand. The caves also contain a cache of painted seashells that are an even more dumbfounding 115,000 years old. Some featured drilled holes, suggesting they were worn as jewelry.