Neanderthals may be closer to our prehistoric modern human species than previously believed, after cave paintings found in Spain proved they were fond of creating art, one of the authors of a new scientific report said on Sunday.
The red ochre pigment, discovered on stalagmites in the Ardales caves near Malaga in southern Spain, was created by Neanderthals about 65,000 years ago, making them probably the first artists in the world, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (PNAS) journal.
Modern humans did not live in Europe at the time of the cave paintings.
The new findings add to growing evidence that Neanderthals, whose lineage went extinct about 40,000 years ago, were not simple relatives of Homo sapiens, for whom they have long been depicted.
Pigments were made in the caves at different times up to 15,000 and 20,000 years apart, the study found, and dispel an earlier suggestion that they were the result of a natural oxide flow rather than being man-made.
Joao Zilhao, one of the authors of the PNAS study, said dating techniques showed that ochre had been spat by Neanderthals onto the stalagmites, possibly as part of a ritual.
“The importance is that it changes our attitude towards Neanderthals. They were closer to humans. Recent research has shown they liked objects, they mated with humans and now we can show that they painted caves like us,” he said.
Wall paintings made by prehistoric modern humans, such as those found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave of France, are more than 30,000 years old.