Prehistoric Cave Paintings Reveal Neanderthals Were The First Michelangelos

Once known as brutish, short and dumb, the Neanderthals are now being hailed as the Micelangelos of the prehistoric era.

A recent study using new dating technology revealed on Thursday that the red disks, handprints, clublike symbols and geometric patterns that are found on European cave walls date back to 40,000 years ago and were not done by the Homo Sapiens, as previously thought, but by the Neanderthals.

The latest research has applied a newly uranium-thorium dating technique and the team was led by Alistair W.G. Pike of the University of Bristol in England. The report determines that the red disk in the cave known as El Castillo was minimum 40,800 years old.

"It is very important stuff, and one more piece in the puzzle minimizing the differences between the behavioral/cognitive capabilities and actual behaviors of Neanderthals and modern humans," said anthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis to Reuters, who has decades of experience in studying Neanderthals but was not a part of the new research team.

"They are made with red pigment - ochre - either spat onto the cave wall or applied with the hand, and do not obviously depict anything. While they are relatively simple they are repeated in a number of caves, and for this reason it is likely that they were deliberate and had some kind of meaning to their creators. Thus they are unlikely to be simple doodles or graffiti," said Dr. Pettitt, Reader in Palaeolithic Archaeology at the University of Sheffield and member of the team.

According to Dr. Perritt, sources of the pigments to make the paintings were local. "Ochre can be obtained from caves in the local vicinity. At this stage we have no evidence that these pigments were being carried around in northern Spain, but based on evidence from elsewhere this is possible," he said.

Pike and his colleagues mentioned that the oldest dated art is "nonfigurative and monochrome (red), supporting the notion that the earliest expression of art in Western Europe was less concerned with animal depiction and characterized by red dots, disks, line and hand stencils." Murals of bisons and horses came later.

Neanderthals, who were genetically and anatomically closer to non-Africans than African modern humans, were members of a now-extinct group of the genus Homo known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia.

The report has been published online in the journal Science.

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