New evidence from caves in Spain shows that Neanderthals have complex symbolic ideas and are quite good artists.
What makes us human? Many people say that our ability to exist in complex behavior, such as language use, art creation, and morals. But how and when did we become "people" in this sense?
The first "anatomical modernization" of our atrocities can be uncovered from skeletal remains, but it is much more difficult to decipher the human race becoming "behaviorally modern".
One of the main features of behavioral modernity is the use, interpretation and response of symbolism. We know Homo sapiens has done this for at least 80,000 years. But Neanderthals, a species of extinct people about 40,000 years ago and living in some parts of Eurasia, have traditionally been considered inadequate as culturally and behaviorally. Now, a new study opposes these views by showing that the Neanderthals are creating cave arts.
( Neanderthals )
The World's First Misrepresented Artists
Earlier examples of symbolic behavior in African Homo sapiens populations include the use of mineral pigments and shell beads, possibly for body ornamentation and identification
However, the evidence for such behavior of other human species is much more contradictory. There are some convincing hints in Europe that the Neanderthals used body trims from 40,000 to 45,000 years ago. However, scientists have argued that the Neanderthals must have been inspired by the modern people who have just arrived there. We know that people and Neanderthals interact and even reproduce with each other.
Cave art is seen as a more sophisticated example of symbolic behavior than body ornamentation and is traditionally thought to be a defining feature of Homo sapiens. In fact, most researchers believe that cave arts in Europe, dating back to 40,000 years ago, must have been made by modern humans, even though the Neanderthals were in those regions over time
History of cave paintings
Unfortunately, we have a poor understanding of the origins of cave art, due to the difficulties that arise in accurate dating. While archaeologists date the day-to-day events from the past, they are based on radiocarbon dating, but this requires the sample to contain organic matter.
However, cave paintings are usually made with non-organic pigments and contain no organic matter, ie radiocarbon dating is not possible. Even when it is possible to date when using a coal-based pigment, there are pollution (contamination) problems that can lead to incorrect results. This is also a damaging technique, because the pigment sample must be taken from the picture itself
Uranium-thorium dating of carbonate minerals is often a better option. This fairly well-functioning geochronological technique measures the natural degradation of uranium in trace amounts of time, from the mineralization of geological formations, such as stalagmites and stalagmites, known as cave deposits to the present day. Tiny cave deposits are usually found on cave paintings, and this technique allows art to be used to determine the age of cave art without harming itself.
A new age
The researchers used uranium-thorium dating to investigate the cave art from three previously discovered regions in Spain. In La Pasiega in the north of Spain, it turned out that the red linear motif is older than 64,800 years. In Ardales, southern Spain, it was understood that one of the red-painted obelisk occurrences was decorated with different paintings, from 45,300 to 48,700 years ago and the other 65,500 years ago. In Maltravieso, west of Spain, the red hand pattern was found to be older than 66,700 years.
These results show that cave art was created in all three arenas at least 20,000 years before the arrival of Homo sapiens in Western Europe. The results showed for the first time that the Neanderthals were producing cave art, and that this was not a single event. The paintings were made in every cave in Spain and have been made many times over at least 18,000 years in Ardales. Excitingly, it seems that the pictures (red lines, dots and hand patterns) are also found elsewhere in Europe, so some of them may have been made by Neanderthals.
Researchers say they do not know the exact meaning of pictures like ladder shapes, but they know they are important for Neanderthals. Some of the paintings have been made in the depths of the caves in areas of pitch darkness. This required the preparation of a pigment as well as a light source.
"Paintings were deliberately chosen; ceilings of low protrusions or impressive stalactite formations. They had to be meaningful symbols in meaningful places. "
The results are extremely important both for recognizing the Neanderthals and for the timing of the emergence of behavioral complexity in the human race. According to findings, Neanderthals undoubtedly had symbolic behavioral capacities, like the contemporary modern human populations that reside in Africa.
"In order to understand how behavioral modernity has emerged, we now need to shift our focus to the period when Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interact and to the period of their last common ancestor. The most likely candidate for this common ancestor was Homo heidelbergensis who lived half a million years ago. "
It is time for Homo sapiens and Neanderthals to move beyond focusing on different things. Modern people may have taken the place of Neanderthals, but it is increasingly clear that Neanderthals have similar cognitive and behavioral abilities. In fact, they were equally "human."
Phys. 22 February 2018.
Article: Kroodsma, D. A., Mayorga, J., Hochberg, T., Miller, N. A., Boerder, K., Ferretti, F., … & Woods, P. (2018). Tracking the global footprint of fisheries. Science, 359 (6378), 904-908.