188 — U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neandertal origin of Iberian cave art

Hoffmann & Standish et al (10.1126/science.aap7778)

Read on 24 February 2018
#neanderthal  #archaeology  #anthropology  #caves  #art  #paleolithic  #iberia  #symbolism 

Mo’ Neanderthals mo’ fun

I just read about Neanderthal creativity and art a few days ago and then — right on cue — this paper is published in Science.

Similar to Thursday’s paper, this paper explores Iberian caves and finds signs of Neanderthals doing things that were once thought to be exclusively human. Thursday’s paper explored cave carvings. Today’s explores symbolic paintings in several Spanish caves.

It was previously well-established that Neanderthals used pigments and other items such as shells as jewelry-like adornments (“self-adornment” is the term used in the paper), but the red pigments found on the walls of caves can be dated using Uranium-Thorium (U-Th) to more than 60,000 years ago, well earlier than it’s believed modern humans arrived in Europe. U-Th dating timeboxes the creation of art by sampling material deposited on top of and below the pigment. The “canvas” sample acts to set a maximum age, and the material above it sets a minimum age.

So this suggests that Neanderthals were painting walls in Iberia long before humans arrived, and this blog post by Neanderthal expert Becky Wragg Sykes explains that it’s possible — even likely — that modern humans, arriving in caves with existing, already-multi-thousand-year-old-art, edited and copied the Neanderthal artwork.

(Sidenote: The paper mentions a Cave painting in Sulawesi, Indonesia, created by probably-modern-humans, which happens to be the origin of my current favorite coffee bean.)

The authors conclude that several instances of Iberian cave artwork, which were previously attributed to modern humans, are indeed the work of Neanderthals many thousands of years earlier than modern humans even existed in Europe.

I wonder how these conclusions relate to the recent findings that suggest that modern humans existed outside of Africa more recently than previously thought. [EDIT] Wragg Sykes even covers that in the same blog post I mentioned above. Read it!