Neanderthals were artists: prehistoric cave paintings discovered in Spain

Red ochre pigment has been discovered on stalagmites in the Caves of Ardales, near Malaga

Red ochre markings that were painted on stalagmites by Neanderthals about 65,000 years ago are seen in a prehistoric cave in Ardales, southern Spain. Reuters
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Neanderthals may have been closer to our species of prehistoric modern humans than previously believed. Cave paintings found in Spain now prove they had a fondness for creating art, one of the authors of a new scientific report said on Sunday.

Red ochre pigment discovered on stalagmites in the Caves of Ardales, near Malaga in southern Spain, were created by Neanderthals about 65,000 years ago, making them possibly the first artists on Earth, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.

A general view and close-up of a partly coloured stalagmite tower in the Spanish cave of Ardales, southern Spain. AFP Photo  /  University of Barcelona

Modern humans did not inhabit the world at the time the cave images were made.

The new findings add to increasing evidence that Neanderthals, whose lineage became extinct about 40,000 years ago, were not the unsophisticated relatives of Homo sapiens they have long been portrayed as.

Pigments were made in the caves at different times up to 15,000 and 20,000 years apart, the study found, dispelling an earlier suggestion that they were the result of a natural oxide flow rather than being man-made.

The exterior of a prehistoric cave where red ochre markings were painted on stalagmites by Neanderthals in Ardales, southern Spain. Reuters

Joao Zilhao, one of the authors of the PNAS study, said dating techniques showed that ochre had been spat by Neanderthals on to 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.

Wall paintings made by prehistoric modern humans, such as those found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave of France, are more than 30,000 years old.

Updated: August 09, 2021, 8:33 AM
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