Scientists Find History’s First Artists — They Weren’t Human

Gabrielle Okun | Reporter

Scientists now believe history’s first artists were Neanderthals, not humans, according to research published Thursday.

A U.K.-German team uncovered ancient alleged Neanderthal crafted artwork amid three separate caves in Spain, according to The Guardian. The researchers maintain this assertion after studying the calcite crusts, organic matter that formed over the petrographs, according to their research featured in Science magazine. The team’s uranium-series dating of the calcite crusts date back to at least 20,000 years before human evolution.

One La Pasiega cave petrograph depicts a ladder-esque design in northern Spain that is at least 64,800 years old. The painting also has vague animal shapes, which humans might have possibly added later. Another Maltravieso cave in western Spain has a petrograph shaped like a hand that dates back at least 66,700 years. The Ardales cave, near Malaga, features an abstract depiction of curtains from at least 65,500 years ago.

“It’s fascinating to demonstrate that the Neanderthals were the world’s first artists and not our own species,” Durham University Paleolithic Archaeology professor Paul Pettit said.

“I think we have the smoking gun,” University of Southampton archaeological sciences professor Alistair Pike said. Pike recalled the team being dumbfounded when they received the initial uranium-thorium date. The Neanderthal art concept was a heavily debated topic prior to this discovery. However, research also entailed radiocarbon measurements, which has the potential for inaccurate results, according to the Independent.

Neanderthals were living in modern-day Europe until at least 120,000 years ago. Humans arrived in Europe approximately 40,000 years ago.

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