World’s Oldest Work of Art May Require Overhaul of Neanderthal Image

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

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  1. bob says:


  2. ksu12 says:

    that is cool

  3. your mom says:

    im not hi

  4. son says:

    yes dad?

  5. mommy says:

    I have this at my house I think.

  6. Shaggy says:


  7. HELLO says:


  8. Mitchell says:

    I’m learning about neanderthals in school right now. my teacher would love this:)

  9. josh says:

    this is stupid

  10. Ima says:

    Not quite as sophisticated as the Lascaux paintings, but certainly impressive considering they came from another species.

    • Eddie says:

      Overall, I thought the praorgm was up-to-date, informative, and reasonably well executed.A couple of important reservations/ criticisms:- the evolving map shown, several times, with the spread of AMHs in red, was just wrong on so many accounts, NG should really take a close look at a second revision of this. I could easily point out five major flaws, but the most important ones are: (i) the initial advance into the Nile/Levant area was earlier by 50,000 years than anything else, may have led to some interbreeding, but did not bring about population growth, and by all accounts and records ended in the demise of the people involved. (ii) the route taken later, about 60,000 years ago, has clearly been established as southern and coastal. It took AMHs 15,000 years or so to learn and cope with a more northern, colder, and inland environment already occupied by Neanderthals, before they managed to conquer an Afghanistan and Caucasus that was similar to their newly-found north-western Pakistan environment, but yet far removed from the tropical coastline of India. Only then were they equipped to march into both Europe and Northern Asia. Perhaps they did benefit from gene exchanges with Neanderthals, while this became possible. At any rate, their technological tool set at that point was pretty close to complete, in terms of what we needed to go to and live pretty much any place in the world (long-term preservation of food by smoking, drying, and freezing, and living in and easily traveling through very cold areas land and sea with all of our required equipment and family members).

  11. Jyotsna says:

    Wow, I think you will be a great OB. It seems like you have a real love for children, femilias, and people in general. Sad to say that those qualities are rare traits in todays world. I believe not just anyone should be in just any job because you could be in a job that you hate and end up making everyone who comes in contact with you at work miserable. You have the joy and care to be great at your job and effect those you will be working around not only by your knowledge , but by your love for what you do.