I heard about this one on NPR a few days ago, and this article comes from BBC News. EvoAnth, this is right up your alley … let me know if you write about it more detail and I’ll cross-post it here. Since I’m actually away and had to pre-write all of the content for this week, it’s gong to be a short summary of their findings.
For some background, scientists have been able to use more refined uranium-thorium radiometric dating techniques to more accurately assess the age of some of the most popular cave art sites in the world – including 11 in Spain. One in particular, consisting of nothing more than a faint red dot, is calculated to be over 40,000 years old.
“This now currently is Europe’s oldest dated art by at least 4,000 years,” he told reporters. It is arguably also the oldest reliably dated cave art anywhere in the world.
If anatomically modern humans were responsible then it means they engaged in the activity almost immediately on their arrival in Europe. If Neanderthals were the artisans, it adds another layer to our understanding of their capabilities and sophistication.
The great antiquity of the paintings leads co-author Joao Zilhao, a research professor at ICREA, University of Barcelona, to think the Neanderthals produced the motifs. Finding even older paintings than the red dot at El Castillo might confirm that “gut feeling”, he said.
“There is a strong chance that these results imply Neanderthal authorship,” Prof Zilhao explained.
“But I will not say we have proven it because we haven’t, and it cannot be proven at this time.
Above is a picture of the motif in question. Well, it’s in there somewhere since the article said it was “a faint red dot”. Maybe they’re all that old, but they only dated one. I’m not sure. Either way, it’s fascinating to consider the possibility that the cave art we had previously thought were done at the hands of our direct genetic ancestors may have been done by Neanderthals instead. They were certainly around during that period in history to have been responsible, and our understanding of them has come a long way from the knuckle-dragging, ape-like caricatures that had originally been associated with their name.