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11 February 2012
First Neanderthal paintings on a Spanish cave?

According to new dating tests, a series of seals painted more than 42,000 years ago, located in the Cave of Nerja, in Málaga (Spain) are the first paintings ever made by humans.
     Until now, archeologists thought that the oldest art was created by modern humans during the Aurignacian period, an archaeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, located in Europe and southwest Asia that lasted broadly between ca. 47,000 and 41,000 years ago in terms of the most recent calibration of the radiocarbon timescale. But the Nerja paintings are way older, way more primitive than the ones in Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave, the 32,000-year-old paintings featured in Herzog's 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams'.
     According to the latest dating of the charcoal found next to the paintings - used either to make the paintings or illuminate them - these seals may have been made more than 42,300 years ago. In fact, they may be as old as 43,500 years.
     It's a mindblowing academic discovery, according to project leader José Luis Sanchidrián, professor at the University of Córdoba, one that can revolutionize our understanding of our history, culture and evolution: "Our latest discoveries show that neanderthals decorated their bodies with paint and had an aesthetic sense, and that's a scientific revolutions because, until now, [we] homo sapiens have attributed our selves every achievement, showing [the neanderthals] almost like monkeys." This discovery, if confirmed with further testing, proves this sapiens-centric idea wrong.
     According to Sanchidrían, all the available scientific data shows that these pictures could only have been made by Homo Neanderthalensis instead of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, something completely unthinkable until this finding. "The charcoals were next to the seals, which doesn't have any parallelism in Paleolithic art" said the professor, "and we knew that neanderthals ate seals." And there is no proof of homo sapiens in this part of the Iberian Peninsula.
     Researchers think that this cave was one of the last points in Europe in which neanderthals - who lived from 120,000 to 35,000 years ago - sought refuge, escaping the push of the Cro-Magnon, the first earliest homo sapiens to reach Europe.

Edited from Diario Cordoba, Gizmodo (7 February 2012)

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