Sunday, June 24, 2012

Is Some Cave Art 'Neanderthal?'

I hesitated to write anything about the recent flurry of articles, most rather sensationalized, in the news about some re-dating of existing cave art/drawings using a new dating technique, because the writers generally talk about Neanderthal as if she were some ape-woman throw-back instead of a human being capable of interbreeding successful with so-called "homo sapiens sapiens."  In fact, the interbreeding was so successful that even today, perhaps 32,000 to 27,000 years after the last of anatomical 'Neanderthal' disappeared (but we really do not know for sure when the last of them "died off"), their genes are some of our genes.  So who, indeed, is "homo sapiens sapiens?"

I think people, including the experts, keep forgetting that we are still very much in the infancy of discovering a more complete picture about the past herstory of Earth and her people.  It seems that absolute-ism still exists in abundance in certain circles, and there is still a clinging to 19th century "theories" (more correctly, hypotheses) that modern scientifically vetted evidence has discredited with respect to "evolution" (that so took us down the wrong tracks!)  My hope is that as we develop more and better techniques for analyzing the age of objects and things that are not carbon-based, and more and better techniques for analyzing and interpreting the meaning of DNA sequences, we will finally kiss goodbye to the 19th century once and for all.  At least, in our quest for historical, archaeological and scientific knowledge of who we are and where we came from.  All bets are off when it comes to our political and "moral" (ahem) culture, which seems to be going full-tilt in a backward direction.  Sigh.

I found this resource, which presents the least sensationalized reports on the most recent study regarding dating of various examples of cave art.  And, yes, it is true that there is a time period overlap of many thousands of years between the new dates (ages) assigned to certain samples of cave art, the existence of so-called Neanderthal throughout Europe and the suspected arrival of so-called modern man in Europe.  So -- who did the art?  Are you really sure about that?

At Science Magazine (

Vol. 336 no. 6087 pp. 1409-1413
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219957

  • Research Article

U-Series Dating of Paleolithic Art in 11 Caves in Spain

  1. J. Zilhão9
+ Author Affiliations
  1. 1Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Bristol, 43 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UU, UK.
  2. 2Bristol Isotope Group, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol BS8 1SS, UK.
  3. 3Centro Nacional de Investigatión sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), Paseo Sierra de Atapuerca s/n, 09002 Burgos, Spain.
  4. 4Department of Geography, Prehistory and Archaeology, University of Basque Country (UPV/EHU), c/ Tomás y Valiente s/n, 01006 Vitoria,Spain.
  5. 5Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street, Sheffield S1 4ET, UK.
  6. 6Prehistory Section, University of Alcalá de Henares, c/ Colegios 2, 28801 Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.
  7. 7Department of Historic Sciences, University of Cantabria, Avenida Los Castros s/n, 39005 Santander, Spain.
  8. 8Museo Nacional y Centro de Investigación de Altamira. 39330 Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain.
  9. 9University of Barcelona/Institució Catalana de Reserca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA), Departament de Prehistòria, Història Antiga i Arqueologia (SERP), c/ Montalegre 6, 08001 Barcelona, Spain.
  1. *To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:


Paleolithic cave art is an exceptional archive of early human symbolic behavior, but because obtaining reliable dates has been difficult, its chronology is still poorly understood after more than a century of study. We present uranium-series disequilibrium dates of calcite deposits overlying or underlying art found in 11 caves, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo, and Tito Bustillo, Spain. The results demonstrate that the tradition of decorating caves extends back at least to the Early Aurignacian period, with minimum ages of 40.8 thousand years for a red disk, 37.3 thousand years for a hand stencil, and 35.6 thousand years for a claviform-like symbol. These minimum ages reveal either that cave art was a part of the cultural repertoire of the first anatomically modern humans in Europe or that perhaps Neandertals also engaged in painting caves.
  • Received for publication 1 February 2012.
  • Accepted for publication 25 April 2012.


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