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Scientists have found the first major evidence that Neanderthals, rather than modern humans, created the world's oldest known cave paintings - suggesting they may have had an artistic sense similar to our own.
A new study led by the University of Southampton and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology shows that paintings in three caves in Spain were created more than 64,000 years ago - 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe.
Palaeolithic - Ice - Age - Pictures - Animals
This means that the Palaeolithic (Ice Age) cave art - including pictures of animals, dots and geometric signs - must have been made by Neanderthals, a 'sister' species to Homo sapiens, and Europe's sole human inhabitants at the time.
It also indicates that they thought symbolically, like modern humans.
Today - Journal - Science - Study - Team
Published today in the journal Science, the study reveals how an international team of scientists used a state-of-the-art technique called uranium-thorium dating to fix the age of the paintings as more than 64,000 years.
Until now, cave art has been attributed entirely to modern humans, as claims to a possible Neanderthal origin have been hampered by imprecise dating techniques. However, uranium-thorium dating provides much more reliable results than methods such as radiocarbon dating, which can give false age estimates.
Method - Carbonate - Deposits - Top - Paintings
The uranium-thorium method involves dating tiny carbonate deposits that have built up on top of the cave paintings. These contain traces of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium, which indicate when the deposits formed - and therefore give a minimum age for whatever lies beneath.
Joint lead author Dr Chris Standish, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, said: "This is an incredibly exciting discovery which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed.
Results - Paintings - Art - World - Years
"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...
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