Cave Art Spain

Neanderthals were artists, according to reports in BBC News, Nature News, Science (AAAS) News and ScienceDaily 22 February 2018, and Science doi: 10.1126/science.aap7778, 23 February 2018, and Science Advances DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar5255, 22 February 2018.

Over the past few years scientists studying rock art and artefacts in several caves in Spain.  Some of it is just red pigments applied to stalactites in the cave, but they also found “The cave art comprises mainly red and black paintings and includes representations of various animals, linear signs, geometric shapes, hand stencils, and handprints”.  They have also found “ochred and perforated marine shells, red and yellow colorants, and shell containers that feature residues of complex pigmentatious mixtures.”

Over the years a layer of mineral deposits, mainly calcium carbonate, has built up over the cave walls where the paintings are. The scientists took samples of this mineral layers overlying the paintings, and used radioactive dating to estimate how long ago the paintings were made. Their logic: the paintings must be older than the oldest part of the overlying mineral layer.  They came up with a date of older than 64.8 thousand years.  This is 20 thousand years older than the previous oldest estimate for modern humans to occupy this region of Europe. Therefore, the researchers claim the rock paintings must have been made by Neanderthals.

Chris Standish, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, commented:  “This is an incredibly exciting discovery which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed.  Our results show that the paintings we dated are, by far, the oldest known cave art in the world, and were created at least 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa — therefore they must have been painted by Neanderthals.”

Since symbolic art has long been considered a distinctive characteristic of modern humans, this cave art must have involved sophisticated behaviours such as choosing a location, and preparing pigments.  Some of the paintings are deep inside the caves, so they argue the artists must have brought in their own light sources.

Dirk Hoffmann, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, another of the researchers, commented: “The emergence of symbolic material culture represents a fundamental threshold in the evolution of humankind. It is one of the main pillars of what makes us human.  Artefacts whose functional value lies not so much in their practical but rather in their symbolic use are proxies for fundamental aspects of human cognition as we know it.”

The new study adds fuel to the ongoing debate about the status of Neanderthals.  Alistair Pike, Professor of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Southampton and co-director of the study, commented: “Soon after the discovery of the first of their fossils in the 19th century, Neanderthals were portrayed as brutish and uncultured, incapable of art and symbolic behaviour, and some of these views persist today.  The issue of just how human-like Neanderthals behaved is a hotly debated issue. Our findings will make a significant contribution to that debate.”

Links: BBC, Nature, Science, ScienceDaily

Editorial Comment: Cave paintings made by Neanderthals would be no surprise anyone who accepted the first man was created in the image of a very artistic Creator, and all his descendants, Neanderthals included, have artistic skills as an innate human attribute.

Recent research confirms that Neanderthals were sophisticated people who lived in organised living spaces, where they cooked a variety of foods flavoured with herbs, and made tools and clothes.

The finding of rock art in regions inhabited by Neanderthals is totally consistent with Neanderthals being fully human descendants of the people who left the Tower of Babel after God’s judgement on the people who wanted to make a name for themselves, rather than worship the Creator (Genesis 11).

We agree with the scientists that creative art is a sign of being human, but we didn’t develop it by any evolutionary processes.  It is confirmation that we are made in the image of God, who is creative, and gave us the ability to express ourselves with symbolic art, and we will use whatever resources are available, including natural pigments and cave walls.  Australia’s aboriginal inhabits also did the same type of art, as observed by the first European explorers only two centuries ago.

Evidence News vol. 18 No. 2
28 February 2018
Creation Research Australia

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