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65 thousand years ago, the first modern humans, also known as Homo sapiens, were said to have painted their caves with red and black pigments, depicting their interpretation of the world. And that world is far different than what we have today. Saber-toothed cats, cave bear, and cave hyenas roamed the megafauna preying on our ancestors. And the art was their way of capturing the world, their beliefs, and most importantly it was a way of passing on what they have learned to their offspring. The abstract artistic cave paintings were proof of our ancient ancestor’s cognitive abilities.
However, new research suggests that the first cave artists may not have been the first ‘modern humans’ but rather our ancient, and by evolutionary standards lesser counterparts, the Neanderthals.
The cave paintings that shattered current evolutionary theories were discovered in Spain.
According to the research paper published in the Science journal, the Spanish cave paintings were too old to have been made by Homo Sapiens, as they are believed to have arrived in Europe nearly 45 thousand years ago.
“The only species that were around at that time were Neanderthals,” said Alistair Pike, an archaeologist from the University of Southampton in England who was part of the team that analysed the paintings. “So, therefore, the paintings must’ve been made by them.”
The paintings, or rather stencils, are made up of swirls of bright red dots and patches onto stalactites that hang from the cave ceilings.
In order to determine the age of the red paint, researchers took 53 samples of stone from the three Spanish caves: Maltravieso, Ardales, and La Pasiega. They then analyzed the deposits that have covered the pigment in subsequent years as to find the dates for when the paint was applied on the stalactites. The results suggest that the carbonate deposits were older than the paint itself, meaning that it must have been placed in the cave a long time before.
Neanderthals are believed to have originated in Europe and Asia from a common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals. While their bones suggest that they were physically similar to use, their cranial features and size pointed to a lower intelligence and were labeled as a subspecies of humans.
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