Science

Cave paintings of swirling dots, ladders, animals and hands in Spain were drawn by neanderthals

Cave paintings drawn by Neanderthals of swirling dots, ladders, animals and hands show our distant cousins were more artistic than first thought, researchers claim. 

A flowstone formation at the Cueva de Ardales, Málaga in Spain is stained red, originally thought to be a natural coating of iron oxide deposited by flowing water.

However, samples of the red residue allowed a team from the Barcelona University to re-examine its origins and confirm it was created by Neanderthals 65,000 years ago. 

They found the ochre-based pigment was intentionally applied by Neanderthals, as modern humans had yet to make their appearance on the European continent. 

Cave paintings drawn by Neanderthals of swirling dots, ladders, animals and hands show our distant cousins were more artistic than first thought, researchers claim

WHAT KILLED OFF THE NEANDERTHALS? 

The first Homo sapiens reached Europe around 43,000 years ago, replacing the Neanderthals there approximately 3,000 years later.

There are many theories as to what drove the downfall of the Neanderthals.

Experts have suggested that early humans may have carried tropical diseases with them from Africa that wiped out their ape-like cousins.

Others claim that plummeting temperatures due to climate change wiped out the Neanderthals.

The predominant theory is that early humans killed off the species through competition for food and habitat.

Homo sapiens’ superior brain power and hunting techniques meant the Neanderthals couldn’t compete.

Based on scans of Neanderthal skulls, a new theory suggests the heavy-browed hominids lacked key human brain regions vital for memory, thinking and communication skills.

That would have affected their social and cognitive abilities – and could have killed them off as they were unable to adapt to climate change.

Blowing red paint made from ochre out of their mouths to decorate caves 65,000 years ago, the ancient humans were among the first artists. 

The scientists behind the study say they used the floor and walls as their canvas, applying them long before modern humans arrived in the area. 

Lead author Dr Africa Marti, of Barcelona University, said: ‘In terms of shape, the markings are characterised by a central area with high colour density.

‘It’s surrounded by an aureole that features a gradual reduction in the concentration of red matter. This pattern suggests an application of the paint by splattering.’

Colour can even be seen in very deep ‘folds’ of the towering rock walls – which resemble drapery, the team explained.

‘They are even beyond arm’s length – the only way it could have reached some of the places is as droplets blown through the mouth,’ Dr Marti said.

The international team analysed tiny pigment samples taken from stalagmites at the site near Malaga, known as Cueva de Ardales.

Some experts had suggested the ‘mosaics’ were caused by microbial activity or flooding and weathering but Dr Marti says that is not correct. 

‘We show the composition of the paint is consistent with the artistic activity being recurrent,’ the study author explained.

‘Our results strengthen the hypothesis Neanderthals symbolically used these paintings and the large stalagmitic dome harbouring them over an extended time span.’

‘Neanderthals developed a form of cave art,’ said Dr Marti, adding that ‘they indeed painted Andalusia’s Cueva de Ardales.’  

The study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detected significant variations in the ochre used.

A flowstone formation at the Cueva de Ardales, Málaga in Spain is stained red, originally thought to be a natural coating of iron oxide deposited by flowing water

A flowstone formation at the Cueva de Ardales, Málaga in Spain is stained red, originally thought to be a natural coating of iron oxide deposited by flowing water

They corresponded to different times – some many thousands of years apart.

Dr Marti said: ‘It seems many generations of Neanderthals visited this cave.. They coloured the draperies of the great flowstone formation with red ochre.’

The behaviour indicates a motivation to return – and symbolically mark the site, Dr Marti explained, adding that it bears witness to the transmission of a tradition through multiple generations of Neanderthals over thousands of years.

The discovery further erodes the stereotypical image of Neanderthals as knuckle-dragging brutes, the author explained, adding they were ‘sophisticated and social’.

A flowstone formation at the Cueva de Ardales, Málaga in Spain is stained red, originally thought to be a natural coating of iron oxide deposited by flowing water

A flowstone formation at the Cueva de Ardales, Málaga in Spain is stained red, originally thought to be a natural coating of iron oxide deposited by flowing water

He said they may have matched modern humans in intelligence stakes, buried their dead and were even capable of complex communication.  

Dr Marti said: ‘The ochre-based pigment was intentionally applied – that is, painted by Neanderthals, adding it was brought to the cage from an external source. 

The researchers said it is not ‘art’ in the narrow sense of the word such as making beautiful images, it is the result of wanting to highlight the unusual formations within the cave themselves, drawing attention to what is there naturally. 

It shows they were deep thinkers – and had an appreciation of space, but also may have originally started as a form of place marking, said Dr Marti. 

The texture of the pigments were unique from any other materials collected from the cave and applied on at least two separate occasions.

They found the ochre-based pigment was intentionally applied by Neanderthals, as modern humans had yet to make their appearance on the European continent

They found the ochre-based pigment was intentionally applied by Neanderthals, as modern humans had yet to make their appearance on the European continent

The first was more than 65,500 years ago ago and the second between 45,300 and 48,700 years ago, the team discovered.  

Dr Marti said: ‘It places the creation of the markings during Neanderthal occupation.’

The same type of symbolic behaviour – including outlines of female human figures and hands, dots and ladder shapes in vivid scarlet and black – have been unearthed at other Neanderthal cave sites across Spain.

‘We predict more markings bearing similarities with those from Cueva de Ardales will be identified in the future in the Iberian Peninsula and dated to the Middle Paleolithic,’ said Dr Marti.

They were part of a long process during which new needs triggered the emergence of new traditions supported by the development of more varied and innovative technical practices, he added.

This isn’t the first study to link the use of red ochre to Neanderthal art, previous studies have shown they were using it up to 250,000 years ago. 

The earth pigment is a naturally tinted clay containing mineral oxides and modern humans used it as an insect repellant, food preservative and medicine when they arrived on the European continent 45,000 years ago. 

It’s not known if Neanderthals were involved in any of these activities.

They were wiped out around 38,000 years ago – possibly due to a combination of climate change and being outcompeted for resources by modern humans.

The findings have been published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A close relative of modern humans, Neanderthals went extinct 40,000 years ago

The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor that mysteriously died out around 40,000 years ago.

The species lived in Africa with early humans for millennia before moving across to Europe around 300,000 years ago.

They were later joined by humans, who entered Eurasia around 48,000 years ago.  

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor - the two species split from a common ancestor -  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

The Neanderthals were a cousin species of humans but not a direct ancestor – the two species split from a common ancestor –  that perished around 50,000 years ago. Pictured is a Neanderthal museum exhibit

These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically thought to be dim-witted and brutish compared to modern humans.

In recent years though, and especially over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent we’ve been selling Neanderthals short.

A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.

It now seems likely that Neanderthals had told, buried their dead, painted and even interbred with humans.   

They used body art such as pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) in Spain apparently predating the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.

They are thought to have hunted on land and done some fishing. However, they went extinct around 40,000 years ago following the success of Homo sapiens in Europe.  


Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button