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Prehistoric cave markings prove Neanderthals ‘painted art like humans’

Markings discovered on stalagmites shows Neanderthals’ capabilities have been underestimated, study says

Leonie Chao-Fong
Sunday 08 August 2021 19:01 BST
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A general view and close-up of a partly coloured stalagmite tower in the Spanish cave of Ardales, southern Spain
A general view and close-up of a partly coloured stalagmite tower in the Spanish cave of Ardales, southern Spain (ICREA/AFP via Getty Images)

Markings discovered on stalagmites in southern Spain prove Neanderthals were creative and “closer to humans” than previously thought, a new study says.

Neanderthals, whose lineage became extinct about 40,000 years ago, have long been stereotyped as unsophisticated ‘cavemen’.

But the discovery of a red ochre pigment in the Caves of Ardales, near Malaga, dating back 65,000 years, could demonstrate their creators were the first artists in the history of the world.

The study, which found that the pigments were made in the caves at different times up to 15,000 and 20,000 years apart, has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.

It argues that the findings show the pigments were man-made and dispels an earlier suggestion that the pigments were a result of natural oxide flow.

Joao Zilhao, one of the study’s authors, said dating techniques showed that ochre had been spat by Neanderthals onto the stalagmites, possibly as part of a ritual.

“The importance is that it changes our attitude towards Neanderthals. They were closer to humans. Recent research has shown they liked objects, they mated with humans and now we can show that they painted caves like us,” he said.

The study’s findings support the idea that Neanderthals used the pigments symbolically over an extended time span in a method “consistent with the artistic activity being recurrent”.

They “support the view that Neanderthals developed a form of cave art more than 20,000 years before the emergence of anatomical modernity in Europe,” the study reads.

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