Neanderthals possibly cave artists

2012-06-15 11:30

Washington - Neanderthals may have been cave-painting artists, according to research published that details a new method of analysing cave paintings in Spain and shows they are the oldest known to man.

The tests on 50 paintings in 11 caves in northern Spain, described in the US journal Science, hint at a previously unknown talent that may have been held by Neanderthals in Europe more than 40 000 years ago.

There has never before been evidence that Neanderthals produced cave art, but they did bury their dead, used some primitive decorative techniques on their bodies and left behind pendants made of bones and shells, experts said.

"So it would not be surprising if Neanderthals were Europe's first cave artists," said co-author Joao Zilhao, a research professor from the University of Barcelona.

The cave images include a club, red discs and handprint stencils that were made by someone placing his or her hand against a cave wall and blowing paint on it.

Latest technique

One such disc in the El Castillo cave dates back more than 40 800 years, making it the oldest cave art in Europe, said the team of researchers.

"We are claiming the oldest reliably dated paintings in the world," said lead author Alistair Pike from the University of Bristol.

A number of "oldest" claims have been made recently, from the Chauvet cave in France at 32 000 years to a limestone wall dating back some 37 000 years at Abri Castanet, a well known archaeological site in France.

Other analyses of art in India and Australia purport to be older, but none were tested with the latest technique and some interpretations are invalid because they are based on style, not science, the authors said.

While the findings in Spain so far do not prove that the art was done by Neanderthals, "we must say there is a strong probability that that is the case", said Zilhao.

Another possibility is that the cave art may have been done by the first modern humans to arrive in Europe, with the earliest evidence of that dating to 41 500 years ago. The Neanderthals died out around 40 000 years ago.

Our ancestors in Africa were known to make shell beads and create geometric designs on egg shell containers more than 50 000 years ago, before the dispersal of modern humans in Europe, though no cave art has been found there.

Conflicting dates

But Zilhao said his hunch is that the Spanish cave art was done by Neanderthals because the procedure they are using for testing, by radioactive decay of uranium on calcite deposits on top of the art, does not actually touch the last layer of material that is in contact with the paint to avoid destroying it.

Therefore, the artwork itself may be several thousand years older than the calcite on top of it, he said.

"It cannot be proven at this time, it is just my gut feeling," he told reporters, adding that more extensive studies are underway in search of even older evidence.

According to Pike, the team's analysis technique is superior to radiocarbon dating, which is widely used but can often turn up conflicting dates within the same painting.

"We are attempting to circumvent these problems by using a completely different method that is based on radioactive decay of uranium," he told reporters.

A very thin calcium carbonite crust falls on top of the paintings over time, in a process similar to the formation of stalagmites and stalactites, and these crusts contain tiny amounts of radioactive uranium.

The uranium decays to thorium, and "it is the measurement of this build-up of thorium that can tell us how long since those crusts formed", Pike said.

Neanderthal culture

To be certain that the work was done by Neanderthals, scientists would have to find a painting that dates older than 42 000 years, the researchers said.

According to Milford Wolpoff, a leading paleoanthropologist at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, the findings add another dimension to our picture of Neanderthal culture, and are reasonable given what is already known about them.

"The Neanderthals make a very good case for a human race," Wolpoff said.

"All these pieces are being put together. It's a puzzle. What is cool about what is happening today is we are missing fewer pieces."

  • Peter - 2012-06-15 12:56

    Who painted the images of dinosaurs on the Rocks then? Countless of hard evidence are around showing the images of dinosaurs painted on Rocks.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-15 12:58

      Oh no Peter, you were watching the Flintstones again!

      zaatheist - 2012-06-15 13:36

      He obviously thinks the Flinstones are a documentary. I have the feeling he is a professional (I make my money peddling god) Xian. So he is probably spreading lies to kiddies as well.

      Jack - 2012-06-15 14:04

      As long as he is only spreading lies to kiddies. That's all you doing, isn't it Peter? Nothing more, right?

  • antin.herinck - 2012-06-15 12:56

    The finding that these paintings have been done by the Neanderthalers itself is not new. But the method of radiometric dating is. Previous attempts using C14 were simply stretching the inherent limits of this method already. The method based on the decay of uranium (U234 into thorium-230) is far more suitable and accurate. That our late cousins were into art is not all that surprising -they were literally brainier than us. (Greater brain-mass) Thus another piece of our natural history is put into place.

      Peter - 2012-06-15 13:33

      What are your sources that states at U234 to thorium 230 is far more suitable and accurate for dating?

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-15 14:28

      Peter have a look at: and you'll see that I'm right.

      bmpdragon - 2012-06-15 21:39

      @antin.herinck: There was no finding that the Neanderthals did these paintings (or created any art at all). It is, but, one of many hypotheses about the art. This article (along with Zilhao and Wolpoff) is biased and one sided. If the same data was interpreted by Paul Mellars, Clive Finlayson or David Lewis-Williams, then a very different conclusion would have been reached (namely that the art was done by Cro-Magnons as a means of cultural competition against Neanderthals). Furthermore, brain mass itself does not equate with intelligence. Elephants and whales, for example, have larger brains than our species, but do not have our intelligence. There are numerous human neurological disorders that result in macrocephaly (e.g. Sotos syndrome), but not increased IQ.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 09:49

      Want to rain on the parade? Actually fine because what you say is mostly true. And to be honest I was aware of all you say, when I wrote it. The idea that it were Neanderthalers, on the balance of probabilities is just my own mere opinion -likely driven by that I want it to be true. Watch this space -all I can say. And as far as the co-relation brain-mass / intelligence is concerned, well I would admit that for a given individual, within a species, this is not necessarily true at all (Descartes e.g. had a tiny brain.) The example of macrocephaly to refute my argument is ridiculous and I hope I won't have to elaborate on that. On the other hand, I doubt that a blue whale would fare much better at IQ tests than us, whilst his brain mass is huge, compared to ours. I expect that you concede that at least the possibility is there that, given the RATIO BRAIN MASS / BODY MASS (crucial factor) was favourable in the case of the Neanderthalers, they must have had some remarkable skills -even if we are not in the position to assess these directly. Speech was NOT one of their skills, BTW -their physiology did not allow for this. And this may have been one of the factors why we prevailed over them. Contnd.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 09:53

      Lastly, further to "brain-mass / intelligence" take the OZ aboriginals. Their brain is considerably smaller than say, the Europeans'. Their performance in IQ tests, or any test that measures cognitive ability, is abysmal. And yet their visual cortex is massive -which enables them to take in and retain features of the landscape. This has been vital for their ability to navigate and survive in a featureless arid land.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 10:27

      As an afterthought, to help you on the way, I found: Brain size, IQ, and racial-group differences: Evidence from musculoskeletal traits J. Philippe Rushton*, Elizabeth W. Rushton,-for one. It may be that this is purely intra-species, but when you read some of this and other stuff, you will see where I was going when I said: "Neanderthalers were brainier". Bit over the top, but not quite sans merit! Also google: brain size body mass etc.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 12:14

      @bmpdragon, I checked some of your "references". (Not true references; you say IF they would have done the work on the paintings, THEN....) Paul Mellars wrote: The conclusion is clear that there was either very little—if any—interbreeding between the local Neanderthals and the intrusive modern populations in Europe, or that if such interbreeding did take place, all genetic traces of this interbreeding were subsequently eliminated from the European gene pool. Mellars is totally wrong here; makes me doubt his credibility. The FACT is that it has been CONCLUSIVELY proven that Europeans (in fact any non-African) has AT LEAST 1-4% Neanderthal DNA, but it may be as high as 15 even 20%!!! (Article in Science, May 7 2010 "A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome", Richard E. Green, Johannes Krause, Adrian W. Briggs et al. The mind boggles: "We show that Neandertals shared more genetic variants with present-day humans in Eurasia than with present-day humans in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that gene flow from Neandertals into the ancestors of non-Africans occurred before the divergence of Eurasian groups from each other." bmpdragon, on reflection, you were right in only one aspect: if has not been conclusively shown that the Neanderthals did the paintings at hand. But I like to think that, in future it will be proven. At any rate, there should be little doubt that they had the potential to do so.

      bmpdragon - 2012-06-16 12:52

      @antin.herinck: (Part 1) Your reply, besides from being confused, was almost bordering on being racist (although I know you didn’t intend it to be that way). Let me go through your initial premises followed by your conclusion and my refutation. Then I will deal with your counter examples. Your argument: Premise 1: Neanderthals had a great “Brain Mass” than our species. Hidden Premise 2: Greater “Brain Mass” is equivalent to greater intelligence. Hidden Conclusion: Neanderthals were more intelligent than our species. Conclusion 2: Neanderthals probably had greater symbolic capabilities than our own and are responsible for the art. My reply was to present two counterfactuals to your Hidden Premise 2 (HP2), namely that increased “Brain Mass” by itself does not always equate with increased intelligence. Your general response was to concede to my counterfactual. Yet you also disputed my Macrocephaly point by stating that it was so ridiculous that it is not worth discussing. Really? Why? You also adjusted your HP2 to: Greater Brain Mass to Body Mass Ratio is equivalent to greater intelligence. My retort to HP2: The human Brain Mass to Body Mass Ratio is almost the same as that of a mouse! But without belabouring the point, I suspect you are referring to Encephalization Quotient.

      bmpdragon - 2012-06-16 12:54

      @antin.herinck: (Part 2)My counter examples to your HP2: First, most of the mammalian brain is used for other purposes (muscle control, digestion, etc.) besides from cognition. Second, we don’t have fossilised brains of Neanderthals (only endocasts) and therefore we don’t know how large their ventricles, white matter and grey matter was. My contention with your Conclusion 2 is this: why would there be only one site of Neanderthal art, smack bang in the middle of the Neanderthal habitation period in Europe (temporally and spatially)? Any claim of Neanderthal art has been controversial and is normally associated with the Chattelperronian techno-complex (the later flint technology which seems to have been influenced by the Cro-Magnon Aurignacian lithic culture). Finally, your assertion about Australian Aboriginal brain size and IQ is overly simplified and smacks of the eugenics anthropology that the Australian governments of the early to mid 20th Century were encouraging (for racist reasons). Such work has been largely discredited today.

      bmpdragon - 2012-06-16 13:21

      @antin.herinck: You doubt Mellars’ credibility? Paul Mellars, besides from being a very respected Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University, is also the author of one of the definitive books on Neanderthal culture, “The Neanderthal Legacy”. Your statement in this context is, well, just poor judgement and hubris. And Mellars is right about the amount of interbreeding that was required for such admixture; very little is required given the amplifying effects of Genetic Drift on a small population to achieve 1-4% admixture. In 2010 I spoke to the Bioinformatics Research Group Leader of the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (and one of the article authors of the highly publicised research investigating Neanderthal admixture) and some interesting bits of information came out. First, the study had not used one of the type specimens from Germany, France or Spain (since the DNA had become degraded and contaminated) but had used samples from the more gracile forms found in Croatia. Neanderthal culture varied over Europe, with those found in Russia/Eastern Europe showing more features in common with Aurignacian culture. The study authors seemed unaware of this or its implications. I am not denying that Neanderthal and Cro Magnon interaction did occur, but rather I am questioning the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals. Even the admixture work cannot answer this question.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 13:48

      I will read the rest later -see what further crap I will encounter, have to get this off my chest first: So my reply is bordering on being "racist"? But you "know" it's not meant to be so? And you say that I am confused? (If I quote or give account of scientific facts, please leave unnecessary, veiled personal attacks out of it.)

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 14:15

      Before we go on, there was something I wrote earlier and I was not sure, I have to make a correction. I said that Descartes had a small brain. (But I was not quite sure about this, was going to check later.) Now I remember (and checked this time!) that it was Anatole French -still a very small (French) brain, still a very clever man.

      bmpdragon - 2012-06-16 14:31

      antin.herinck: I apologise if you seemed to think that I was personally attacking you. I wasn’t: I was providing a summary of your reply. I wasn’t name-calling or using an ad hominem attack. First the bordering on racism part — Your statement about Australian Aboriginals: “Lastly, further to "brain-mass / intelligence" take the OZ aboriginals. Their brain is considerably smaller than say, the Europeans'. Their performance in IQ tests, or any test that measures cognitive ability, is abysmal” {Your statement}. Notice the connotatively loaded word “abysmal”. This type of statement originates from research, which as I mentioned, was part of the eugenics program that allowed for the policy of the “Stolen Generations”. As I also mention, this research has been largely discredited. I trust you didn’t make such a statement knowing the turmoil and pain it caused. Second the confused aspect— You interchangeably used the terms “Brain Mass” and “Brain Mass To Body Mass Ratio” when they are different measurements. Furthermore, you were actually meaning Encephalization Quotient. All of these terms have their drawbacks and do not accurately reflect what you are trying to state. You also brought in Neanderthal genetic admixture as if it were related to Neanderthal and Cro Magnon culture. The connection isn’t explicit nor causal. As to the “crap” you may encounter in my reply: be assured there is none!

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 15:07

      bmpdragon, I have now read your "rebuttal" and start to see that you try to win an argument by subtly ascribing ideas to me and by using sophistry. If it were not for the fact that you force me to read about things that are very interesting, I would reckon you a waste of my time. I will chuck your "premises and hidden premises" into the waste bin and not respond. Goes nowhere. Perhaps some of it will be addressed in my idea about your "macrocephaly" thing. A quick wiki tells me that you confuse this with megalencephaly- which is the sub-category pertaining to an actually enlarged brain. (As opposed to increased water / bone mass.) In fact your "Sotos syndrome" is characterised by increased bone overgrowth, also in the skull, and retardation. Are you in earnest, do you want to support your arguments by referring to birth-defects, even after I hinted that you should rethink this argument? I have not done any reading on the pathology in question. And that will take some time, after I manage to find it and understand it, BUT it's a foregone conclusion that such a brain is not functioning in a "normal", efficient fashion, i.e your argument is complete rubbish. (Visit brain-dead partients in hospital and have a chat with them, you will see what I mean).

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 15:10

      Contnd. To avoid further needless debate: allow me to re-state: given a population of many (HEALTHY!) homonid brain-samples, one can reasonably expect that, within that population there is a positive corelation between the sizes of the cerebral cortices and frontal lobes on the one hand and cognitve ability / intelligence, on the other. In fact this expectation is supported by exhaustive statistical studies. So the only question to me remains: How congruent in anatomy / physiology were the brains of the Neantherthalers and our own brains? You may see grounds for a smaller section of the Neanderthaler that determines intelligence, than our own, and I would like to say that, in the absence of any evidence therefor, why not reckon that our respective brain-anatomy was pretty congruent? In which case they could well have had greater potential than us. Shame that they were lacking in one of our most important survival attributes: we can communicate with another, and they could not. I repeat, spare me any PC-crap, I'm deaf to that stuff. Eugenics was nonsense and certainly not science. Any anthropological research and its finding may hurt your liberal soul -but prove em wrong -or shut up. bmpdragon, we fail to convince one another, but your last argument: that no other cave art attributable to Neanderthalers has been found (yet) is not lost on me, and your strongest one too.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 15:18

      About Mellars. He was the first researcher you attributed (bit of a weird way of reference if you ask me) a hypothetical approach to. So if I find, within 5 min. that he makes a colossal, fundamental error and I combine this with your convoluted approach of bestowing opinions onto him, I will stop reading and discard this in it's entirety. But of course your are right, my bad, I reject YOUR credibility, not the combined works of Mellars'.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 17:16

      Your "This type of statement originates from research, which as I mentioned, was part of the eugenics program" = twak. The facts as related by me came from bona fide research and are factually correct. If you find not so, kindly provide evidence / peer reviews that contradict this. (But kindly leave out Gould's, he IS widely discredited he is even accused of academic malfeasance.) the language "abysmal" comes from me. And I use it just for the hell of it. Don't like it: tough. Find it racist: tough. But you are free to call it: far below average, tantamount to retardeded -or whatever. I have a prob with the terrorism of the mind that permeates academia and is called Politically Correctness. In fact it's a downright daft concept. Something is either correct or it is not, no? and how DOES one tackle a problem (arrested development of aborigines) if one is shy to call it like it is -or worse condemn any acknowledment of the facts? I am white. And if anyone says: ha you come from a race that scores quite a bit lower on IQ-tests compared to (certain) Chinese populations, I say: true but our penises are bigger. I wish the day would come that the Negroid race could say the same. Or offer the rebuttal: "true, but there's evidence that the environmental factors are not enough taken in consideration and then we have a discourse going. NOT, NOT "oh but you are a racist!"

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 18:37

      You interchangeably used the terms “Brain Mass” and “Brain Mass To Body Mass Ratio” when they are different measurements. Furthermore, you were actually meaning Encephalization Quotient. All of these terms have their drawbacks and do not accurately reflect what you are trying to state." No, they are not different measurements. The one is an absolute value, the other is a ratio -more accurately expressing the relative intelligence of a species. (Contnd)

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-16 18:38

      Haha, this is funny. I talk about this all the time -albeit without elaborating on the ratio, initially, (sorry but for this -but I did not anticipate that you would go off on tangents like elephants and birth-defects.) Then I explain this, help you by making suggestions to further reading and then Mr Brainbox comes and explain it all to me, tells me that I'm confused! And sorry, if you read a bit more, you'll find that the mouse analogy does not fly. Either you are thick and don't get : “it takes into account allometric effects. The relationship, expressed as a formula, has been developed for mammals, and may not yield relevant results when applied outside this group.” Or you are a bullshyter who refuses to concede he's wrong. Show that the principle doesn't go for two hominids, who are so closely related that we (Europeans) -genetically speaking have more in common with Neanderthalers than with sub-Saharan blacks, and we are talking. Otherwise don't talk for the sake of it. QUED

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-17 01:30

      Some quick and easy stuff: VERY INTERESTING COMMENTS! Different from us, (but not less brainy) less able to communicate, more loner / individualistic-like. The lack of communication skills and concomitant lesser ability to form tightly knit communities, must have made them unable to compete with us. I have a nephew who is very, very bright indeed (off the scale in maths!). He has a milder form of Asperger's Syndrome. Put a bunch of them together and ask them to survive, and they'll perish due to their contactual deficiencies. We humans prevailed. But we may thank our late cousins for their genetic input in the Europeoids and Mongoloids -shame it was not entirely ubiquitously bestowed onto the human-race. (If IQ does matter to one, that is. Oh sorry non-PC me again!)

  • antin.herinck - 2012-06-15 13:15

    \We are claiming the oldest reliably dated paintings in the world,\ said lead author Alistair Pike from the University of Bristol. Hmm, the method employed here IS superior. But much older such paintings have been found elsewhere. (E.g. Oz and India) So this claim is misleading, if not accurately read. Without much doubt the sites in Australia (Arnhem Land) and India (Auditorium Cave and Daraki-Chattan) are older, albeit that the dating used there is less accurate. It's simply a matter of time before this is improved on. But the fact that this work in Spain is done on other hominids' art is unique and exiting! .

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