Neanderthal art pre-dates humans in Europe

Scientific analysis of cave paintings in Spain suggests that the artists must have been Neanderthals as they are dated prior to when ‘modern humans’ are thought to have arrived in Europe.

The researchers said their work suggested that Neanderthals were“cognitively indistinguishable” from early modern humans.

Reuters – Primitive art: Neanderthals were Europe’s first painters

A high-tech analysis of cave art at three Spanish sites, published on Thursday, dates the paintings to at least 64,800 years ago, or 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa.

That makes the cave art much older than previously thought and provides the strongest evidence yet that Neanderthals had the cognitive capacity to understand symbolic representation, a central pillar of human culture.

“What we’ve got here is a smoking gun that really overturns the notion that Neanderthals were knuckle-dragging cavemen,” said Alistair Pike, professor of archaeological sciences at the University of Southampton, who co-led the study.

“Painting is something that has always been seen as a very human activity, so if Neanderthals are doing it they are being just like us,” he told Reuters.

While some archaeologists already viewed Neanderthals as more sophisticated than their commonplace caricature, the evidence until now has been inconclusive. With the data from the three Spanish cave sites described in the journal Science, Pike and colleagues believe they finally have rock-solid proof.

The early cave art at La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales includes lines, dots, discs and hand stencils – and creating them would have involved specific skills, such as mixing pigments and selecting appropriate display locations.

Cave painting from Pasiega, Spain

My Neanderthal artist genes must not be dominant.

Scientists used a precise dating system based on the radioactive decay of uranium isotopes into thorium to assess the age of the paintings. This involved scraping a few milligrams of calcium carbonate deposit from the paintings for analysis.

A second related study published in Science Advances found that dyed and decorated marine shells from a different Spanish cave also dated back to pre-human times.

Joao Zilhao of the University of Barcelona said the new findings meant the search for the origins of human cognition needed to go back to the common ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans more than 500,000 years ago.

Neanderthals died out about 40,000 years ago, soon after direct ancestors arrived in Europe. It is unclear what killed them off, although theories include an inability to adapt to climate change and increased competition from modern humans.

According to the dates given here:

  • Paintings dated to at least 64,800 years ago
  • ‘Modern humans’ arrived in Europe about 20,000 years later ie about 45,000 years ago
  • Neanderthals ‘died out’ about 40,000 years ago

The genome connection between Neanderthals and modern humans was proved in 2013: The Mating Habits of Early Hominins

A high-quality genome sequence obtained from a female Neanderthal toe bone reveals that the individual’s parents were close relatives and that such inbreeding was prevalent among her recent ancestors, according to a paper published today (December 18) in Nature. But the sequence also reveals that interbreeding occurred between Neanderthals and other hominin groups, including early modern humans.

Despite the high degree of inbreeding that took place in the family of this particular Neanderthal—named the Altai Neanderthal—there was also evidence that Neanderthals in general interbred with other hominin groups. The team compared the genomes of the Altai Neanderthal, a Denisovan, a number of modern humans, and Neanderthals from Croatia and the Caucasus mountains, and confirmed earlier indications that modern humans contain both Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA.

They also showed that Denisovans contained both Neanderthal DNA sequences—most similar to that from the Altai Neanderthal—and sequences absent from Neanderthals and modern humans, which thus appear to have come from an unknown archaic hominin group.

This is very interesting, but there is something that puzzles me – humans are thought to have only arrived in Europe about 45,000 years ago, and interbred with Neanderthals, but:

In a 2011 genetic study by Ramussen et al., researchers took a DNA sample from an early 20th century lock of an Aboriginal person’s hair with low European admixture. They found that the ancestors of the Aboriginal population split off from the Eurasian population between 62,000 and 75,000 BP, whereas the European and Asian populations split only 25,000 to 38,000 years BP, indicating an extended period of Aboriginal genetic isolation.

The same genetic study of 2011 found evidence that Aboriginal peoples carry some of the genes associated with the Denisovan (a species of human related to but distinct from Neanderthals) peoples of Asia; the study suggests that there is an increase in allele sharing between the Denisovans and the Aboriginal Australians genome compared to other Eurasians and Africans.

The data suggest that modern and archaic humans interbred in Asia before the migration to Australia.

Before humans moved into Europe and interbred with Neanderthals.

Dating Aborigine art is difficult but:

“We don’t have the [dated] art itself, but we’ve found the tools that were used to make the art. For that reason, we rightfully assume that Australia has pigment art going back to when people first came here which is close to 50,000 years ago.”

That is before modern humans are thought to have arrived in Europe, which is much closer to Africa than Australia.


  1. Corky

     /  March 5, 2018

    Oh, dear. Things are starting to become a little complicated. Same in America with the discovery of ancient DNA suggesting the discovery of a new race of people, and turning the clock back on migration theories.


  2. The first people to enter America did so through an ice free corridor through or along the Aleutian chain.
    They had a specific dental anomaly known as a ‘peg’ tooth

  3. And I notice that the article is from the Guardian another fake news source

  4. Gezza

     /  March 5, 2018

    Bloody taggers. Look at the trouble they’ve caused.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  March 5, 2018

      It’s all right, they’ve been painted over by rhe local council.

  5. Kitty Catkin

     /  March 5, 2018

    A book that I have about Neanderthals fussily makes the point that they should be called NeanderTALS. But they are so widely known as Neanderthals that this is unlikely to change.I can’t remember what the reason was, but it seems a bit nitpicky.

    • It’s named for an area in Germany where Neanderthal remains were found.

      Tal means valley in German, and thal is an old spelling of the same word. Both are pronounced the same (like tahl).

      Thal is an older spelling of the German word Tal (with the same pronunciation), which means “valley” (cognate with English dale)

      Neanderthal fossils were first discovered in 1829 in the Engis caves (the partial skull dubbed Engis 2), in what is now Belgium by Philippe-Charles Schmerling and the Gibraltar 1 skull in 1848 in the Forbes’ Quarry, Gibraltar, both prior to the type specimen discovery in a limestone quarry (Feldhofer Cave), located in the Düssel River’s Neandertal in Erkrath, Germany (about 12 km (7 mi) east of Düsseldorf), in August 1856, three years before Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  March 5, 2018

        I couldn’t remember what the rationale was and couldn’t be bothered going to look at the book. It’s been Neanderthal for so long that I think it will stay that way. There seems little point in changing it.

  6. alloytoo

     /  March 5, 2018

    How do I, and to whom do I lodge a claim In respect of the invasion, subsequent rape and genocide of my people in Pre-history? (might as well climb on the bandwagon…….)

    • Gezza

       /  March 5, 2018

      Start with Sir Geoffery Palmer. All the best. 👍🏼

  7. PartisanZ

     /  March 5, 2018

    Oh culturally out-of-touch, since the adoption of ‘Social Darwanism’ and Divine Crustacean Brain Pre-Ordination – as espoused by ‘Lobster Man’ Jordan Peterson – the saying in the Art world has long been …

    “Neanderthal is the new Human”

    • phantom snowflake

       /  March 5, 2018

      Jordan Peterson is a “Gateway Drug” to the Alt-Right/White Nationalism/White Supremacism/Neo-Fascism etc etc. So many Far Right sites uses his videos as a recruiting tool. He sounds so Reasonable and Rational and so “Un PC!”

      • PartisanZ

         /  March 5, 2018

        “Gateway Drug” … I like it … superbly stated phantom snowflake …

        A combination of pseudo-science and bullying has long been a useful Totalitarian “recruiting tool” … again, very well put …

        At the very end of his BBC interview he does say, “We can do something about it” … (the structural organisation of our societies) … except our response options are somewhat limited, confined by our complete absence of socio-cultural conditioning … and the hormonal inevitability of our Lobster physiology …

        When the water boils …. we squeal …

        • PartisanZ

           /  March 5, 2018

          And ‘un-PC-ness’ is such a superb carrier organism for “unreasonable and irrational” dis-ease …

          He’s not coping well with “the adjustment” is he? The Gender, Western-Indigenous, Sexual Preference, First World-Emerging Nation, Orient-Occident “adjustment” …

          It must be ‘contained’ …

          • phantom snowflake

             /  March 5, 2018

            He’s a desperate Man. I can’t find a link but I recall reading that his solution to the infection of “postmodernism” and “neomarxism” in Canadian universities was to cut enrolments in Humanities subjects by 80%. “Free Speech” (cliche) = good, but apparently Academic Freedom = bad. (Psychology is a pseudo-art too…)

            • PartisanZ

               /  March 5, 2018

              Qualified of course by the word “clinical” …

              Pavlov’s Lobster …

            • phantom snowflake

               /  March 5, 2018

              Haha that’s fucken brilliant!

            • PartisanZ

               /  March 5, 2018

              Thanks … unfortunately its actually worse with him …

              It’s kinda like ‘The Archangel Pavlov’s Lobster’ …

              ‘A Darwinian Deity’ …?

            • phantom snowflake

               /  March 5, 2018

              Sadly I have a cousin who can’t imagine life without Jordy Pee’s podcasts. He tells me that of late JP is a bit evasive when it comes to the subject of his once vaunted Christianity. Maybe a “Cultural Christian”, “Secular Christian” or an adherent of “Casual Christianity”??

            • PartisanZ

               /  March 5, 2018

              It must have a cause or it isn’t science … Right?

              The other side of podcasts, of course, as with many things on the internet – blogging included – is the click-bait ‘dopamine’ factor …

              Roll up! Roll up! Calling all Lobster brains … Get your Serotonin hit here!!!

              JP’s thinly veiled ‘male rage’ probably interfaces with something in your cousin’s psyche … maybe …?

            • phantom snowflake

               /  March 5, 2018

              For sure. He’s a typical target of the Alt-Right etc: Depressed, poor social skills, never had a ‘relationship’. I do what I can but am a bit too anarchic to have much credibility in my mostly conservative family.

          • PartisanZ

             /  March 5, 2018

            I know that feeling …

            Perhaps its the very feeling Jordan Peterson is over-compensating for …?