The seal paintings in the Nerja caves
What image comes to mind for the word “Neanderthal”? Do you see a grunting, hulking brute intent only on killing mammoths and dragging women by the hair to his cave? If so, it may be time to let go of the cartoon version and adopt a new concept of this ancient hominid that disappeared from the fossil record some 25,000 years ago.
It seems that Neanderthals had an artistic side. Paintings of seals were found in a cave in southern Spain. Tests of materials found nearby indicate that the paintings were at least 42,000 years old and made by Neanderthals. (Tests of the pigment itself will have to be performed before the date can be confirmed.) Until recently, paleontologists were certain that the earliest art was made by members of our own species, Homo sapiens.
Other findings bring Neanderthal thoughts and emotions into the discussion. A burial ground, also found in southern Spain, seems to show that they buried their dead intentionally, rather than, for instance, just covering them with dirt. The dead had been positioned in a way that indicates the living showed them respect or affection. Whether or not the burials imply thoughts of life after death are debatable.
Toolmaking may be another area in which Neanderthals were more adept than previously thought. At least one Neanderthal group, in what is now Italy, developed new tool types some 42,000 years ago to help them adapt their hunting practices to changing climate conditions.
So, if Neanderthals were more “human” than we may have assumed, we should not be surprised that these ancient “people” are still with us. Europeans and Asians—and their descendants—get a small percentage of their genetic material from Neanderthals.
Image credit: © Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images
- First Neanderthal Cave Paintings Discovered in Spain
Learn the details about the ancient cave paintings.
(Source: New Scientist, February 10, 2012)
- Neanderthals More Intelligent than Thought
Read about recent discoveries regarding Neanderthals and tool production.
(Source: Discovery News; accessed February 29, 2012)
- Did Neanderthals Believe in an Afterlife?
Findings in southern Spain indicate that Neanderthals were capable of symbolic thought.
(Source: Discovery News, April 20, 2011)
This site has several links to subtopics about Neanderthals, along with basic information.
(Source: Wikipedia; accessed February 29, 2012)