A Groundbreaking New Study Reveals Neanderthals Were Creating The World’s First Art 115,000 Years Ago

Martin MeissnerAP Images

Over time, the word Neanderthal has come to mean a rough or course type of individual, yet a new study reveals that far from being an unsophisticated species, Neanderthals were actually busy creating the world’s first art 115,000 to 120,000 years ago.

As evidence of this, beautiful art has been found to adorn a cave in Spain known as Cueva de los Aviones, and here can be found strategically placed marine shells which have been turned into a colorful display by Neanderthals with the clever use of yellow and red mineral pigments.

New dating of the flowstone at this location has indicated that these works of art are actually far older than previously thought and date to roughly 120,000 years ago, according to an abstract in the journal Science Advances.

Aside from decorative rock and cave art, there is also some evidence that points to European Neanderthals using body ornamentation, as The Conversation reports. If this is indeed the case, it would mean that 40,000 to 45,000 years ago Neanderthals were also interested in taking their artistic vision and focusing it on themselves.

Previous dating of Neanderthal-related sites has proven to be challenging, and this is because when mineral pigments are used there is no organic material to work with, making radio-carbon dating impossible. Even when charcoal is used as a form of cave decoration, there is always the distinct possibility of contamination, which leads to dates which are far from exact.

When it comes to the best method of dating Neanderthal art, scientists have found that uranium-thorium dating is by far the most accurate. This particular process uses stalactites and stalagmites and measures the small amounts of uranium to gather a much more exact date of the sites in question.

These very small speleothems can frequently be found sitting right over cave art, and scientists are able to date these rather than the paintings themselves. This not only gives a more accurate date, but also helps to preserve the art itself as the paintings needn’t be touched.

This new uranium-thorium dating method was used to investigate Neanderthal cave art in La Pasiega, Spain, and verified that a stunning red design inside has been decorating this site for more than 64,800 years. Further dating also showed that a location in Maltravieso had intricate paintings created by what looks like a red stencil and which have been in existence for at least 66,700 years.

While these particular places have been investigated before, scientists were keen to use new technology to give the Neanderthal art in question a more exact date.

Investigation of these sites show that Neanderthals were creating beautiful pieces of art for well over 20,000 years before Homo sapiens entered the scene in Europe. As the University of Southampton’s Alistair Pike explained, the new dating results are very exciting for scientists and serve to show the world just how cultured Neanderthals truly were, as the Telegraph reports.

“This is an incredibly exciting discovery which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed. The issue of just how human-like Neanderthals behaved is a hotly debated issue. Our findings will make a significant contribution to that debate.”

The new research conducted on Neanderthals creating the world’s earliest art can be read in its entirety in the February 2 issue of the journal Science Advances.