Spanish cave paintings older than previously thought


This drawing on a limestone slab found at Abri Castanet in southwestern France is said to be of female sexual organ associated with unidentifiable engravings. Dating back 37,000 years it is believed to be the world's earliest known cave art.


Raphaëlle Bourrillon

New evidence may show that Neanderthals may have painted the crude Spanish cave paintings of a red sphere and handprints, following tests that showed that the paintings were older than previously thought.

According to the Associated Press, after testing the coats of paintings in 11 Spanish caves, researchers found that one is at least 40,800 years old, 15,000 years older than previously thought.

This potentially changes everything about the way we think about our long-extinct, long-maligned Neanderthal cousins.

"Neanderthals, of course, have had this bad press for a long time," the University of Barcelona's Joao Zilhao, a member of the research team, told reporters. "But the research developments over the last decade have shown that this is probably not deserved."

The team tested 50 Paleolithic paintings in 11 Spanish caves, including the famous pictures of horses and human hands at the Altamira and El Castillo caves. Previously, the tests to date the paintings were done by radiocarbon tests, but the scientists, led by University of Bristol's Alistair Pike, used a different technique that analyzed the proportions of uranium, thorium and related elements in the calcite deposits that formed above and below the paintings, MSNBC reported.

While it would be incredible if the Neanderthal theory holds up, it could create a problem.

According to ABC News, the belief among researchers has been that Neanderthals were just not intelligent enough to create outlines of their hands, or draw pictures. The idea of seeing something and making a two-dimensional image of it would have been beyond their capacity, they explain.

But Pike and his colleagues cautioned that they’d like to date the paintings in many more caves before they do anything else. Revising theories of human prehistory is not something done lightly or quickly