The first Neanderthal cave art

There has been some debate about the artistic ability of Neanderthals, and to date no art has been found, though their “spirituality” has been suggested from traces of ochre in burial sites. That suggests either that living bodies were decorated before burial or were adorned after death in some kind of ritual.  People seize on that, eager to detect signs of religiosity. (Ochre is a red “earth” pigment that contains ferric oxide.)

There are of course famous representational cave paintings, like the wonderful beasts of Lascaux, but these were made about 20,000 years ago. That was after Neandertals became extinct and when “modern” H. sapiens had already colonized Europe from Africa around 40,000 years ago. (Note: I’ve always considered Neanderthals a “subspecies” of H. sapiens, H. sapiens neanderthalensis, while “modern” humans are H. sapiens sapiens. Needless to say, some anthropologists disagree, though the interfertility of these forms, as evinced by Neanderthal genes in the modern human genome, makes me deem them members of the same biological species.)

Neanderthals are conventionally thought to have been in Europe from about 250,000 years ago to about 40,000 years ago. Thus the finding of 65,000 year old cave paintings in Spain, as documented in a new paper in Science by D. L. Hoffmann et al. (reference below; free access with Unpaywall, pdf here), not only bespeaks an artistic bent of Neandertals, but is the oldest cave paintings by a hominin. (The previous records are a hand stencil in Indonesia and a red disk  in a Spanish cave: both date to about 40,000 years ago and were therefore almost certainly done by H. sapiens sapiens.)

So what did Hoffmann et al. find? The three Spanish caves they investigated bear red hand stencils, abstract art consisting of geometric figures, as well as figures of animals like deer and birds. Since the caves appear to have been continuously occupied for at least 100,000 years, there’s no way of knowing, without dates, which subspecies produced which art.

The novel thing about this paper, though, is that the authors were able to actually date the art using uranium-thorium dating on the carbonate crusts that form on top of the paintings. These carbonates are what make stalactites and stalagmites, and form when the calcium compounds crystallize out of dripping water. A crust on top of a painting therefore had to form after the painting was created. I didn’t look up how they can date the formation of the crusts using uranium and thorium, but I’m sure a reader will tell us.

At any rate, here’s a geometric ochre panel, with crusts over it (see inset), that was dated at a minimum age of 64,800 years. It’s called a “red scalariform sign” (“resembling a ladder especially in having transverse bars or markings like the rungs of a ladder”), but I sort of see a humanlike figure to the right, though it’s probably my imagination. You can see the crust that was dated atop the red pigments. What a lucky find!

Fig. 1 Red scalariform sign, panel 78 in hall XI of La Pasiega gallery C. This panel features the La Trampa pictorial group (21). (Inset) Crust sampled and analyzed for a minimum age (64.8 ka), which constrains the age of the red line.

Here’s a hand stencil almost completely obscured by calcite, but made visible with software (right). This is between 45,300 and 48,700 years old, but other samples indicated a minimum age of 65,000 years.

Fig. 2. Hand stencil GS3b in Maltravieso cave (minimum age 66.7 ka). (Left) Original photo. The inset shows where the overlying carbonate was sampled for MAL 13. (Right) Same picture after application of the DStretch software (25) (correlation LRE 15%, auto contrast) to enhance color contrast. See (20) for details.

Finally, here are some “speleothem curtains” (calcite sheets) which have some red pigment (surely of human origin) covered with calcite; the ages here are 65,500 years.

Fig. 3 Speleothem curtain 8 in section II-A-3 in Ardales cave with red pigment, painted before at least 65.5 ka ago. (Left) Series of curtains with red paint on top, partially covered with later speleothem growth. The white rectangle outlines the area shown at right. (Right) Detail of curtain 8. The black square indicates where carbonate, overlying the red paint, was sampled for ARD 13. See (20) for details.

Paintings and ochre daubings from all three caves are, as the authors say, consistent, and, at 64.8 kyr (64,800 years), “substantially predate the arrival of modern humans in Europe, which has been variously estimated at between 45 ka and 40 ka ago.” Thus this art predates the arrival of “modern” humans by 20,000 years. (“Modern H. sapiens” remains simply aren’t found Spain at the time of these paintings). Since the only hominins in the area were Neanderthals, it’s presumed these paintings are by that subspecies—unless there’s some still-undiscovered hominin, which seems unlikely.

Neanderthals, then, had art—though it’s not representational—well before the famous cave paintings of France. This shows, as the authors say, that Neanderthals had a light source and premeditation, both of which are necessary to create hand stencils. They add, “it is difficult to see them [the art] as anything but meaningful symbols places in meaningful places.”  Well, we are meaning-seeking creatures, so I wouldn’t go that far. Perhaps they’re the Neanderthal equivalent of graffiti, not having much meaning at all. (“Hey, Zog, look: I made a print of my hand!”)

It’s unlikely that this kind of art was unique to these three caves, and so, as Hoffman et al. propose, it seems likely that eventually we’ll find Neanderthal art in other caves. And it will be interesting to see if that subspecies hit on representational art—showing animals or hominins—before H. sapiens sapiens came to Europe and Neanderthals died out.

_______

Hoffmann, D. L., C. D. Standish, M. García-Diez, P. B. Pettitt, J. A. Milton, J. Zilhão, J. J. Alcolea-González, P. Cantalejo-Duarte, H. Collado, R. de Balbín, M. Lorblanchet, J. Ramos-Muñoz, G.-C. Weniger, and A. W. G. Pike. 2018. U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neandertal origin of Iberian cave art. Science 359:912-915.

122 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    This is wonderful.

  2. Mark Reaume
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I’ve always been skeptical of claims of spirituality / religiosity based on cave art or ornamentation. There are lots of reasons that modern people create art and I don’t see why ancient people would be any different.

    Anyway, this is a fascinating finding.

    • Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Yeah, it always irks me when there is a TV show on an archaeological subject and as soon as some architectural structure is found whose purpose is unknown, zip, it’s considered religious.

      Amazing find! Thanks for bringing it to our attentions.

      • Frank
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        It’s called the “art of the gaps”.

      • Posted February 24, 2018 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        To have been religious they would have to have developed a moral side to their nature which made them aware of good deeds and bad deeds.
        The big question is could fire have been discovered and used without a moral nature ? I believe so since many animals use simple tools.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 24, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

          And many animals exhibit moral behavior.

          • Posted February 24, 2018 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            The behaviour you speak of is simply favourable to their survival. Morality depends on self- consciousness. Julian Jaynes makes a case for humans not having self- consciousness until about three thousand years ago. Before that time we had bicameral minds.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted February 24, 2018 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

              You are very confident about the truth of the bicarmel mind hypothesis! It’s a pleasing, coherent idea, but not provable. Yet. Maybe when we understand consciousness, language & minds a little better that will change, but for now it’s not scientific to be so certain.

              • Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:21 am | Permalink

                I hope I’m not over confident about anything but we must not close our minds.
                I’m not confident we will understand self consciousness which is the big hurdle.
                The well known atheist Sam Harris believes free will and the Self are illusions but he insists we carry on just the same.
                I struggled with Steven Pinkers How the Mind Works, he believes the human mind was created by natural selection but goes on to say we may not be equipped to understand everything.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                Nobody is closing their minds
                I haven’t particularly poopooed bicarmalism

                What concerns me is Jaynes hasn’t moved his thesis forward much in 40 years. Has his work been built upon?

                Placing us apart from the rest of the animals in a special category of consciousness on the basis of our displays of disinterested altruism [true altruism] has some merit, but assigning the cause to some new, unique type of cultural transmission that’s inheritable in a ‘meme’ fashion ~ at a point around 3,000 years ago is really pushing it!

                We would expect to find lost tribes who haven’t got ‘the message’ & have a different mental life. Perhaps with less mercy displayed to outsiders, but it turns out they’re just like ‘us’! Keeping pets [some of them useless], kids having invisible friends & animating their dolls & all the rest of the weird stuff ‘we’ do arose across groups that have been separate since since the last ice age. So what mechanism spread bicarmalism across the entire planet so recently? Gene or Meme?

                ** Has Jaynes looked at the grave goods of ancient Egyptians? It could be you or me doing the burying – in the choice of items & the loving care of the dead
                ** Other social species are known to care for outsiders & even other species
                ** Global altruism [such as veganism, giving blood or charitable subscriptions] presumably requires a suite of intellectual tools including a complex mental model of the world as a connected entity. A mental model that has us down as responsible agents. I don’t see a change in the way we cared for our environment that happened 3,000 years ago. Do you?

                In summary: we have some unique behaviours & beliefs, but these can all be explained by a host of social changes such as individual specialisation, agriculture & the increased complexity of our culture because language & writing. It is also very difficult to get inside the heads of ancient peoples who had different memes & traditions to ours – nobody had invented the idea of recording intimate personal experience [The Novel] yet, so ancient times do have an otherworldly quality just because of that fact alone. What a loss that we don’t have any ancient equivalents of that rascal Samuel Pepys & his naughty diaries!

              • Posted February 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for such a detailed reply , let me expose my problem . I’m 75 with no higher education and an IQ of about 105. When I retired I resolved to educate myself as best I could.I soon found some subjects were very difficult but they seemed important. I read as much as I could but some books were hard to understand.I also wanted to see what expert opinion was on things that were tricky, and found many disagreements among the experts.
                I believe Jaynes is talking about the sense of I or self that we seem to have. The mirror test is a good one and a few higher mammals seem to recognise their own images and this seems to refute Jaynes? or does it I’m not too sure.This was thrown into confusion to me by Sam Harris and other neuroscientists who deny free will and the sense of self.
                I was happy with natural selection until I read Wallace’s Paradox . If stone aged man had a modern untrained mind why? Why did natural selection give him what he did not need. Steven Pinker answers he did need such a mind to survive — tricky stuff.
                I gather from your answer you believe in social Darwinism and we have changed not just in technical advance but in nature.
                I will stick with Freud the vocal evidence from all sorts of people says ‘ We are at war with our selves.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                kertsen

                [A] Thanks for such a detailed reply , let me expose my problem . I’m 75 with no higher education and an IQ of about 105. When I retired I resolved to educate myself as best I could.I soon found some subjects were very difficult but they seemed important. I read as much as I could but some books were hard to understand.I also wanted to see what expert opinion was on things that were tricky, and found many disagreements among the experts.

                I’m oldish too – I hope you’re enjoying your studies! This IQ thing is a bit rubbish – it doesn’t pick up on curiosity & a willingness to engage with the world. Everything I read or see or hear or do now I do for pleasure. Mostly I’m interested still in “why?” & how?” and so are you. Vast majority of adults have lost their childish tinkering side. Shame.

                [B] I believe Jaynes is talking about the sense of I or self that we seem to have. The mirror test is a good one and a few higher mammals seem to recognise their own images and this seems to refute Jaynes? or does it I’m not too sure.This was thrown into confusion to me by Sam Harris and other neuroscientists who deny free will [1] and the sense of self [2].

                [1] “Free Will is an illusion” isn’t a neuroscience-based theory although neuroscience contributes some evidence to that effect. Better to think about Free Will from a philosophical point of view & ask “what would it take for Free Will, to be real?”. For free will to be real requires that the mind can defeat physics & determinism, but if the mind is a dynamic process occurring in the brain only, then Free Will must be an illusion.

                [2] Contrary to what you write, neuroscientists, including Sam Harris, DON’T deny the sense of self. Investigations of human fractured, damaged brains/minds show us that ‘self’ is a slippery concept – one brain can be home to more than one ‘self’ for example, it is literally true that there are people for whom the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I recommend “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales” by neurologist Oliver Sacks [RIP] – it consists of 24 amusing & rather shocking essays. A MUST READ.

                [C] I was happy with natural selection until I read Wallace’s Paradox. If stone aged man had a modern untrained mind why? Why did natural selection give him what he did not need. Steven Pinker answers he did need such a mind to survive — tricky stuff.

                This is what Wallace wrote:

                Our law, our government & our science continually require us to reason through a variety of complicated phenomena to the expected result. Even our games, such as chess, compel us to exercise all these faculties in a remarkable degree. … A brain slightly larger than that of the gorilla would … fully have sufficed for the limited mental development of the savage; and we must therefore admit that the large brain he actually possesses could never have been solely developed by any of those laws of evolution, whose essence is, that they lead to a degree of organization exactly proportionate to the wants of each species, never beyond those wants.

                Wallace is a creature of his time who has seriously underestimated what’s required to be a happy & successful ‘savage’! Wallace spend a few years in the Brazilian rainforest & after a few years break he spent almost a decade in the Malay archipelago – I haven’t read his books on his adventures [I must soon], but there’s something ‘off’ about his assessment of the ‘savage’! I wonder how close did he get to the ‘savages’ who enabled him to prosper in the rainforest? Did he learn their languages or rely on Portuguese, lingua franca & hand waving?

                Please just consider the naked ape Wallace & how long he would survive in the environment of your typical savage! Savage survival is all about cooperation & a deep understanding of the landscape they inhabit – I dispute that we are over designed for a ‘savage’ lifestyle & I reckon the Western mental ‘plug ins’ that distinguish us from the ‘savage’ are cultural innovations. I think Pinker is 100% correct when he claims the so-called paradox can be dissolved with two hypotheses:

                “The first is that humans evolved to fill the “cognitive niche,” a mode of survival characterized by manipulating the environment through causal reasoning & social cooperation.

                The second is that the psychological faculties that evolved to prosper in the cognitive niche can be co-opted to abstract domains by processes of metaphorical abstraction & productive combination, both vividly manifested in human language”

                His full, detailed argument IS HERE

                [D] I gather from your answer you believe in social Darwinism and we have changed not just in technical advance but in nature. I will stick with Freud the vocal evidence from all sorts of people says ‘We are at war with our selves’.

                [1] “Social Darwinism” is a meaningless phrase with a dozen definitions – the term is poison
                [2] Freud is 95% poppycock
                [3] You characterised me incorrectly – our culture has evolved at a phenomenal rate & can’t be left out of our evolution any more. We inherit memes & writings – not just genes.
                [4] We are not at war with ourselves so much as living in an overly complex society, with plenty of leisure time & not many real wants. We thus have the head space for such luxuries.

                Peace 🙂

            • GBJames
              Posted February 24, 2018 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

              “simply favourable to their survival”

              And this is different from humans in what way?

              Julian Jaynes was likely off-base.

              • Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:31 am | Permalink

                A mother must look after her young to help future survival and in some cases the herd or group will assist.Tell me how does keeping the terminally sick as happy as possible fit in, or becoming vegetarian to save animals being killed.
                We are in a different league , so different that Alfred Wallace found it impossible to believe the human mind was a result of natural selection. Freud put it in a nut shell when he said ‘ We are at war with ourselves’.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                kersten… you should read up on reciprocal altruism and other aspects of behavioral evolution. There’s a lot of relevant data that you don’t seem to be aware of.

                PS… Wallace was wrong about human evolution. And Freud was very often not even wrong.

              • Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

                Thank you for mentioning reciprocal altruism
                I will follow up that line. It would seem that there is some debate about whether true altruism exists and that there always has to be a motive of some sort for our behavior.
                It reminds me of the reason Steven Pinker gives for the fact he claims we are living in the most peaceable time in human history.
                It’s not because we have changed but simply because war does not pay.Others claim altruistic action makes us feel warm inside.
                Regarding Freud is it not true there is a conflict in our nature between our sense of duty and our ambitious desires? Mum wants to go out dancing but the children cannot be left.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

                Freud’s work can best be described speculation mascurading as science. His ideas were popular for a time but have been abandoned by modern science. They are most interesting as examples of how people can go wrong when they don’t rigorously test their ideas against reality.

              • Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:38 am | Permalink

                Just thought I’d let you know I attempted to order the Oliver Sacks book you mentioned from the local library , apparently it is in great demand so it will be awhile. I have plenty to do reading the Selfish Gene not an easy task I have to keep going back over parts.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink

                Great! You will love that book.

        • Posted March 4, 2018 at 12:48 am | Permalink

          Moral and religion have emerged independently. Moral is related to interactions with other humans and religion was initially an attempt to explain the natural world. Connection between them was secondary.

          • Posted March 4, 2018 at 3:42 am | Permalink

            I have never separated them in in that way but I see your point. So religion initially had the same motive as science ; an attempt to understand the world.Morality is an attempt to understand our feelings toward others.
            Interesting your point about ritual and burying the dead , it seems there is something in us deeper than belief that influences our behavior.

            • GBJames
              Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:07 am | Permalink

              Nobody knows how religion originated although there are lots of ideas about it. But we do know something about the development of morality. The sense of right and wrong clearly has deep evolutionary roots since it is exhibited in other animals as well as in humans.

              In any case, religion and morality are clearly independent things. You need only look to common decency of most non-religious people for evidence. (To say nothing of the moral failures to be found in most religious communities.)

              • Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                I’m trying to read the Selfish Gene which seems to suggest the gene is the driving selfish creative force not the animal group.
                Curiously Richard Dawkins apologises saying: this is how things are not how they aught to be.It strikes me he is wrestling with the grim facts but why?and where did his moral outlook which I share come from.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:59 am | Permalink

                Dawkins used some poor analogies when he moved on to discussing morality in the The Selfish Gene [BTW he now wishes the book had been called The Immortal Gene]

                The Wiki on The Selfish Gene is worth perusing, especially Section 3:
                3.1 Units of selection
                3.2 Choice of words
                3.3 Enactive arguments
                3.4 Moral arguments
                HERE IS THE LINK TO IT

    • Posted March 4, 2018 at 12:46 am | Permalink

      So have I. Atheists (the ones I know at least) also bury their dead with rituals.

  3. Charles Sawicki
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Why were Neanderthals apparently displaced by humans? A new paper suggests that humans were more social due to self domestication. They claim to see similar structural and some genetic changes comparing homo sapiens to Neanderthals as are seen comparing wolves with domesticated dogs. Interesting, but I’m not able to evaluate the reliability and importance of their findings.

    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185306

    Self-domestication in Homo sapiens: Insights from comparative genomics
    Constantina Theofanopoulou etal

    • nicky
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Traditionally the reason that moderns ‘took over’ from the Neanderthals is that the ‘moderns’ appeared more mobile, more nomadic, depleting their environment to a lesser degree.
      I do not know if that is true, but there must have been something, in a ‘man to man’ combat, it seems the moderns were no match.
      I’ve read -not a scientific source, but I can’t find it- that our Neanderthal genes are of male origin. That gives us the idea that a Neanderthal man was able to rape a modern human, but not the other way round. [Just imagine raping a Neanderthal woman, with more strength in her pinkie than you in your whole body.] All that is of course just so.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        I think the most likely replacement theory is a combo of many things that on balance favoured us.

        We had a defined roles culture: [a] stay-at-homes for baby raising & cultural transmission [b] especially wide-ranging human-wolf partnerships of the young, fit males to exploit the hoofed herd prey of the European steppes of the last ice age.

        They didn’t have a wolf partnership it seems & they were less able to follow herds in a society with a less marked division of labour & a stockier build not designed for walking/trotting all day. Thus they became isolated communities tied to a drying, cooling landscape – small tribes of Neanderthals with inbred gene pools & a reduced resistance to disease. They had parasites & pathogens that debilitated us & vice versa, but we had the greater resilience to overcome their diseases. A slow decline & assimilation over 200 generations ensued.

        There’s no need for your rape hypothesis – small bands of Neanderthals may have been assimilated by us for their skill sets which likely were different from ours. Perhaps we killed the young males & ‘adopted’ the rest.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted February 24, 2018 at 8:17 am | Permalink

          The current state of the art of early last year was that we do not know (and maybe it still is). Papers based on sequencing work and modeling the selection seen vs population sizes gave that at the time Out-Of-Africans spread into Europe they were 10 times as numerous. (Jerry has shown some of that material in various articles, by the way.) The population size and stratification differences had resulted in drifting Neanderthal alleles. In sum, remaining difference between modern humans having 10 % Neanderthal alleles and 0-2 % can be fit within the Neanderthal drift model. The drifting alleles were on average less fit when dispersed into a larger pool of alleles, and alleles on average under more efficient selection at that. That would mean Neanderthals were simply a subspecies or possibly a different species, would it not?

          In any case, that does not mean these populations were identical. “I don’t object to the idea that Neandertals may have been cognitively different than modern humans—in fact, I think this is likely. The idea that Neandertals were fixed for stupid and modern humans fixed for smart is biologically incredible.” [ http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/neandertals/demography/ecocultural-model-gilpin-2016.html ] They had different history, location and thus different genomes and culture. Usefully they are OTUs in some models, in more coarse grained trees not. [I just decided minimizing my personal taxonomy used, therefore I will stick with [i]Homo sapiens[/i] before Out-Of_Africa as [i]Homo sapiens sapiens[/i] and the modern hybrid as either i]Homo sapiens sapiens[i] or simply i]Homo sapiens[/i]. Mostly not because the genome content mirrors that, but that may be useful too. Of course my mileage may vary.]

          On similar grounds, while I do not remember if there were evidence either way, the gender et cetera “filtering” during assimilation may not be known yet. Again, a reasonable null may be that there were none.

          The “first species” rank in [self-]domestication is interesting and at first glance plausible. But that would describe our genes, and I think our phenotype evolution (e.g. the brain case rounding and shrinkage), mostly after the 40 kyrs hybrid emerged, would it not?

          • Torbjörn Larsson
            Posted February 24, 2018 at 8:22 am | Permalink

            Oops, I was not formatting the italics for a WordPress site (and I missed one parenthesis too).

            Oh well, I think the intended format is visible.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 24, 2018 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Hi Torbjörn. You have replied to me in the thread it seems, but is some of what you’ve written intended for others here?

      ** “Out-Of-Africans spread into Europe they were 10 times as numerous.”
      I don’t understand. Who is “they”? And more numerous than whom?

      ** “That would mean Neanderthals were simply a subspecies or possibly a different species, would it not?”
      Homo neanderthalensis or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis is not a useful distinction given that we & ‘them’ are thought to have sprung from Homo erectus anyway. Doesn’t seem important to anyone who isn’t a stamp collector 🙂

      ** In any case, that does not mean these populations were identical. “I don’t object to the idea that Neandertals may have been cognitively different than modern humans—in fact, I think this is likely. The idea that Neandertals were fixed for stupid and modern humans fixed for smart is biologically incredible.” [johnhawks]
      I don’t know why you write this. I didn’t differentiate them on “stupid/smart” lines – all I’ve said is they had a different build, a likely different social setup & probably a different skill set [the latter inevitable if lifestyle different]. I think the wolf partnership is the ‘killer app’

      ** The “first species” rank in [self-]domestication is interesting and at first glance plausible. But that would describe our genes, and I think our phenotype evolution (e.g. the brain case rounding and shrinkage), mostly after the 40 kyrs hybrid emerged, would it not?
      I didn’t write about that, I have no knowledge on the matter & have no idea how to reply to you 🙂

  4. Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Now that we know many of us have Neanderthal DNA, we are rapidly and desperately repairing the Neanderthals’ reputation. They have gone from being troglodytes with protruding foreheads to budding artists. Surely we will be calling them scientists next. 😉

    • Frank
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Well, they did have more of a browridge, an occipital bun at the back of the skull, a more horizontal brain/braincase, a different jawline, and other distinctive morphological features (but brains just a big as ours). It is interesting that they were nevertheless interfertile with anatomically modern humans migrating out of Africa, hence not an entirely different species.

      • nicky
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        If they were ‘infertile’ with modern humans. how do you explain our ‘Neanderthal’ DNA? Makes no sense.
        Note, their brains were bigger than ours. Maybe a case where size doesn’t really matter?

        • Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Oops. Frank said they were “interfertile”, not “infertile”.

          • nicky
            Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

            Yes, ‘Oops’, sorry for that.

    • Posted February 24, 2018 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Good comment but we all tend to look after our own and believe we are more gifted than we are.

    • Posted March 4, 2018 at 12:53 am | Permalink

      True, but I think you are exaggerating. I have read description of their burials many years ago, back when their DNA was thought extinct; and even now when we are meeting our inner Neanderthal, they are still troglodytes and their brow ridges are still protruding :-).

  5. Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I didn’t look up how they can date the formation of the crusts using uranium and thorium, but I’m sure a reader will tell us.

    Uranium is slightly water soluble whereas thorium is not. So the original crust will have had a trace of uranium but no thorium.

    Over time uranium decays to thorium, so the ratio of the two today gives you the age of the crust.

    So you were right!

    • glen1davidson
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Notably, it’s the U-234 ratio to Th-230 that is measured, U-234 itself being a product of U-238 decay.

      Glen Davidson

  6. Geoff Toscano
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Wow fascinating, especially as I visited the El Castillo caves in September gone. I realised I was looking at very ancient cave drawings but had no idea they were quite so old, nor rare. I’m only disappointed I didn’t manage to sneak some furtive, non flash, photos but the camera ban is very strict.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      In the tombs at Luxor there is a strict ban on flash, in case of a cumulative effect that degrades the colours, so some of my photos suffer from hand shake. I am surprised that at El Castillo there is a total ban on photography. Did they give a reason?

      • Geoff Toscano
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        No they didn’t, but in hindsight I could have sneaked a few if I’d loitered a little.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          I suppose the ban could be for “spiritual” reasons. 😎

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        I am surprised that at El Castillo there is a total ban on photography. Did they give a reason?

        The concern – from having chatted with curators at various recent-historical places, is not about the person who understands lighting, exposure, aperture, camera shake and how to get acceptable photos without using potentially damaging illumination levels. The concern is idiots who don’t even know that their camera can have the flash disabled, let alone how to do it.
        People interrupting the flow by setting up tripods in the middle of carefully planned flow paths is a subsidiary problem.
        Selling good quality picture sets is a nice-to-have sideline.
        I’ve done a moderate amount of cave photography. These days, I don’t bother because I know that I haven’t developed the techniques adequately. Though I did modify the equipment I’d put together for cave photography to use successfully for cross-polarised photomicroscopy. Most people think that light is the problem, when it very rarely is. It’s breath that messes things up badly, and takes ages to clear before you start your photography. Those professional photographs are almost certainly taken at night. When there is the photographer and one guide/ Sherpa around.

  7. loren russell
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I visited a small family-run ‘picture cave’ in southern Spain about 20 years ago whilst botanizing with a British group. Somewhere to the southwest of Ronda, I believe.

    Certainly evidence of a very ong tradition of graffiti, with evidently old geometric and hand imprints, a few beaasts and quite a few fish. And quite a few evidently recent and crude [in more than one sense], especially near the entrance.

    I’ve been poring over maps trying to see if the Malaga province cave in this paper is the one we visited. Probably not, but might have been on Zog’s paper route.

  8. glen1davidson
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    A glimpse into the the Neandertal mind.

    Making us wonder, “What?”

    Really cool find, anyhow. Love that they can find minimum ages. They must be dealing with very tiny amounts of uranium and thorium.

    Glen Davison

    • Richard Bond
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Modern mass spectrometry can measure extremely tiny quantities, and separate different isotopes of the same element. This seriously annoys creationists.

      • nicky
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Any fact annoys creationists 🙂

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted February 23, 2018 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          Except for the “alternate facts” that they invent as needed.

  9. busterggi
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    “Neanderthals, then, had art—though it’s not representational”

    Maybe, maybe not – could just need to be found.

    Or they were Muslims/

  10. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Sub

    Hand print gives me shivers – the good kind, not like scary shivers.

    • Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Me too. It’s the Neanderthal screaming into the void; “I lived”.

  11. Liz
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    This is so interesting. I see a goalpost. Interesting also that my own artistic ability hasn’t evolved too far beyond this. So neat to contemplate.

  12. Cate Plys
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Thanks for addressing the question of whether Neanderthals are a totally different species, Jerry. I’ve been confused about the articles that all say that, because of the point you mention—if we have Neanderthal DNA, there had to be some crossbred offspring. I for one would love to see a post going a little more into why the general view seems to be they were a different species, but maybe it’s too complicated for the nonscientists like me to appreciate.

    • busterggi
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Not to forget the Denisovans – almost totally unknown physically, completely unknown culturally, yet due to genetics we now know they contribute genes to several geographically different population from Tibetans to Melanesians.

    • Frank
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      It seems to be more a semantic issue than anything else. We are so enamored by our Latin binomials that we lose sight of how messy things can be for recently diverged populations that have accumulated clear genetic and morphological differences (during interruptions of gene flow), but may show complete or partial interfertility. We have many examples in nature of divergent geographic populations that resist a simple answer as to whether they constitute one species or two. And if we look across time, it gets even messier if we try to use discrete names – no “late” Homo erectus parents gave birth to an “early” Homo sapiens.

      • busterggi
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t be totally shocked if H. erectus wasn’t actually a sub-species as well. Or maybe that would make us the sub-species.

    • Liz
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      I would also be interested in this.

    • Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I believe the general view is based entirely on morphological and genetic difference. To my mind that’s not a very good way to distinguish groups as species, as it’s purely arbitrary. In my book Speciation, with Allen Orr (Chapter 1 and Appendix), I discuss why I favor the “biological species concept” based on interbreeding. And under that concept, since Neanderthals and “modern” humans did interbreed and clearly had fertile offspring (otherwise we wouldn’t be carrying Neanderthal genes), they were members of the same biological species.

      But of course species concepts are controversial, so many use a “morphology” or “lineage” concept. My book discusses why I see these as problematic, and also discussed which species concepts are most appropriate for which biological question you’re asking.

    • Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Try
      Adam Rutherford.
      A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived. The Stories in our Genes.

      A catchup if you will and a very messy business it is.
      Prof(E) gave it a brief mention not long ago, as he was reading it. But it is very good for non scientist types like me.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      The view that they are a different species (Homo neanderthalis) is the old idea which had been around for a long time. Such things become deeply entrenched so it will take time to expunge it.
      The evidence that they are a subspecies of our species is now pretty good since several neanderthal genomes have been sequenced or partially sequenced, and the data has held up. The key thing is that they share various genetic markers that are also shared with H. sapiens that are indigenous to Europe. This must mean that they exchanged genes (i.e., mated) with our kind where we co-existed with them. So we are H. sapiens sapiens, and they were H. sapiens neanderthalis.

    • Posted February 24, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      “(Note: I’ve always considered Neanderthals a “subspecies” of H. sapiens, H. sapiens neanderthalensis, while “modern” humans are H. sapiens sapiens. Needless to say, some anthropologists disagree, though the interfertility of these forms, as evinced by Neanderthal genes in the modern human genome, makes me deem them members of the same biological species.)”

      I, also, am so very glad to see this. It annoys me terribly when I read current internet, magazine or newspaper articles referring to H. sapiens sapiens as “human” but H. sapiens neanderthalensis not.

  13. ploubere
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Really fascinating, although not by any means the oldest purposeful designs yet found. The oldest as far as I know is a shell found in Java with geometric patterns carved into it, dated to 500,000 years ago.

    The Venus of Berekhat Ram, found in the Golan Heights, and the Venus of Tan-Tan, found in Morocco, are at least 250,000-300,000 years old but possibly as old as 750,000 years. If so, they would have been created by homo erectus.

    • Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I know that. I believe there’s a bone flute (if that counts as “art”) that dates back to around the Neanderthal times.

      • ploubere
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t mean to diminish the significance of this find, which is fascinating. There is a cognitive step from carving patterns or tracing one’s hand to depicting animals, which becomes something more akin to story telling. What’s really interesting is how every new find pushes back in time the point at which our ancestors became creators and communicators.

        The Lebombo bone is about 44,000 years old and is usually cited as the oldest clear evidence of counting, although there are other notched bones as old as 80,000 years.

      • nicky
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        Yes, a bone flute would count as art, music is art, immo. The thing is that that flute is not undisputedly Neanderthal (yes, I think it probably is, we tend to give too little credit to the Neanderthals).
        However, your POTUS is about what I imagine Neanderthals were, so I’m not without prejudice myself.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        I am not sure why you, followed by ‘ploubere’ say Neanderthal art is ‘not representational’ when the video I saw of archaeologists discussing the finds shows very clearly the front half of some creature painted in one ‘panel’ and the back half of some creature painted in another.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

          Remember that some many these panels (generally) contain a variety of styles materials and techniques. It is certainly within the bounds of possibility that individual panels were decorated in instalments over periods separated by multiple thousands of years. Mash together some panels from a Pompeiian domestic wall, that Last Supper painting that gets so much Da Vinci Code attention, and a Banksy painted underpass. Then try to make sense of it.

          “Palimpsest” – that’s the word that was rattling around in the back of my mind.

  14. Posted February 23, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I wonder if the handprint is a “signature”!

  15. Michael Fisher
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    For a sense of scale you’ll not do better than this video recorded in the caves – with interesting explainers from various scientist bods. under 5 mins:

    One chap makes the point that the location in the caves is such that it suggests ritual [I’m not gonna use the horrid, useless word “spiritual”!]

    • GBJames
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for that, Michael!

    • rickflick
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      I had thought the “ladder” shape was much smaller. After visiting a number of caves in southern France last fall, it was evident to me that the geometric signs were quite uniform across many sites which were quite far apart. We learned that similar markings can be found across the globe covering many thousands of years. If Neanderthal markings are the same as some of the modern human ones, that would suggest a common origin or that we learned the signs from Neanderthals. Here’s a TED Talk on the 32 kinds of symbols:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJnEQCMA5Sg

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        I am in one mind about this – I’m careful about what I believe these days now I’ve left my impressionable, trusting, RCC youth long behind me!

        [1] TED is full of shite these days
        [2] Seen this TED talk before & it’s mostly useless filler. I just speed watched to confirm it’s short on content.
        [3] 32 symbols is outrageously large! It must cover every simple geometrical pattern of scratches & dots that’s possible in two dimensions
        [4] “Symbol” is a heavy duty word for a heavy duty culture that needs to record all sorts of data & speculate about the cyclic aspects of the future: royal successions, astronomy, seasons, grain quantities, exchanges in barter etc. We are in Phoenician trading economy territory here with contracts for goods to be delivered at a preset price. We’re Lloyds of London betting on the Tea Clipper rounding the Cape unscathed.
        [5] A hunter-gatherer society needs a stick with some marks on it – as to how many ribs of boar meat you loaned to that flea-ridden Ugg-the-lame’s family & that’s it. You’d want that info in portable form, not one kilometre inside a cave complex.

        By her account, nearly two-thirds of these symbols [around 20] are found in the earliest Aurignacian sites & she argues for a “symbolic tradition [that] appears to have arisen in Africa long before the first groups of migrants left to populate the Old World” – someone needs to make a scratch markings program & see what sort of symbol set naturally falls out of such an exercise. Square, triangle, cross, arrow, dot…

        The ladder thing is very interesting – I was put in mind of a cartoon strip or a film strip where each frame is an advance in time. Telling a story of a hunt to come – to make it turn out favourably with a bit of cave voodoo.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

          It may not be true, but it’s interesting speculation. From what I’ve read, the early days of exploration of the European caves was full of very fanciful hypotheses about the purpose and meaning of cave art. The modern view seems to be that we really have no good idea what they were all about. The one thing that sticks with me after numerous visits was how stunningly beautiful some of the art is, and how very, very long these people kept making it. Wait, that’s two things isn’t it? Ah, well.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted February 23, 2018 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

            The representational cave work makes sense to me – to evoke success & celebrate past successes. An all male team talk with some edgy mushrooms the night before departing on the hunt.

            When I see the rows of dots I think “counting” which would be important for predicting animal migrations. For predicting how many more ‘Moons’ are left before Spring is sprung. Also they’ve got to get through harsh winters – they must have had dried meats, fish, nuts & fruits set by for then. They’d keep that in the sacred, forbidden place [where the shaman is suspiciously glossy & fat] to reduce thieving. What puzzles me is what they did for storage containers? lined clay holes in the ground with a stone slab for the lid?

            When I see the geometry I’m puzzled – it doesn’t read as ‘bear’ or ‘spear’. The nearest thing that rings a bell is Aussie Aboriginal dream time symbology where we have river, campfire, kangaroo track, spear etc – all arranged to tell a story or at least act as reminders [placeholders] for a spoken word story, narrated by granny about the Big Hunt of x years ago. But those are symbols where the shape echoes a real world thing.

            • rickflick
              Posted February 23, 2018 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

              The idea that the imagery represents celebration of the hunt is contradicted by the fact that during most of the era the images are not the main source of food. Much of the diet consisted of reindeer, much like the current hunters of northern Scandinavia. Reindeer and other food sources are rarely represented. The Lions, bears, and mammoths often depicted were not part of the diet. Horses are commonly represented and are an exception in that they probably ate many. The reason for the imagery is really still a puzzle.

              The geometry is also a mystery to the experts.

              Storage is a good question. Native Americans dried meat and fish in the sun, as I recall. Probably the cro magnons would have had huts for living through the winters with storage racks. Imagine aged reindeer or bison meat with a local Merlot.

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted February 24, 2018 at 7:37 am | Permalink

                Great finds, of course.

                Not having read the papers yet, I note that the articles about figurative art – a definite sign that the new finds settled the question about symbolic art – goes from optimistic to pessimistic in the BBC article [ http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43115488 ]:

                “But he said it could be argued there were still no clear examples of Neanderthal figurative art – artwork drawn from real sources, such as animals or people.

                Prof Pike told BBC News: “The next big question is: ‘did Neanderthals make figurative art? We’ve got hand stencils, we’ve got lots of red dots and we’ve got these lines. We want to know whether there are paintings of the kind of animals they were hunting.”

                In La Pasiega cave, in northern Spain, the researchers dated a ladder-shaped (scalariform) drawing to a minimum age of 64,800 years ago. However, the artwork from this cave has yielded dates of up to 80,000 years ago. There are animals painted within the rungs of the ladder, but the scientists haven’t yet dated these – and they could be younger.”

              • Torbjörn Larsson
                Posted February 24, 2018 at 7:42 am | Permalink

                That said, my 2c is that the pigment and stroke technique in the ladder – some narrow strokes visible, seemingly going into forming its broad infill – and the animals looks identical to me. (Also, a reasonable null would be that the art was made at one go.)

              • rickflick
                Posted February 24, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

                “they could be younger.”

                Stay tuned.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

                Probably the cro magnons would have had huts for living through the winters

                For certain values of “hut”. There were a couple of mesolithic (circa 8kyr BP) huts excavated on the NE England coast a decade or so, which were a ring of light poles around a circular pit dug a foot or two into the ground, with an inferred skin/ bark/ turf roof. It’s debated if these were one-season or whole year family dwellings. It is debated if there were any permanent settlements. At least, any closer than the Levant, or a cave shelter.
                General migration away from the glaciers in the early part of the change over remains on the table. If it works for the Nenets, Sami and Inuit, then it probably worked for our ancestors. Expected archaeological footprint : negligible.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

                We should look for old latrines IMO. I think hut dwellers & cave dwellers alike wouldn’t habitually ‘go’ behind the bushes – they’d dig pits some distance from the domicile – especially immobile camps.

                Native American practises varied a lot, from crapping in a heel scrape & covering, to pits, to moving when the area became unliveable. We’d learn a lot from crapping practises.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

                Searching the latrines. A techniques with a fine vintage bouquet. The polite term is “midden”.
                Did Native Americans have dogs pre-Columbus? I honestly don’t know, but I do recall that one of the (not mutually exclusive) theories of how wolves were domesticated into dogs involved their task of eating human shit around the houses (huts, tents) and in the process being selected for starch-digestion and several other traits. I think it was discussed here, probably under “Cats 2, Dogs still 0”.
                While some people (I’m thinking of a Roman author, of a “Dummies Guide to being a General” – “Tertullian”, or something like that) went into detail on how to handle crap, and in some countries “night soil men” were a respected trade (if hardly welcome as neighbours, like tanners).
                Yeah, there are “piles of crap” in the archives of archaeology.
                Don’t get me started on coprolites. My best friend, and best man, brought me a dinosaur turd for New Year a couple of years before he died.

              • rickflick
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

                A couple of poo tidbits:

                1. Not so long ago – maybe 17th century, poo contained a high percentage of what today we consider inedibles – including fish heads and tails, bone, etc. It seems they were just not as fussy as we are.

                2. In Japan, after the war, GIs noticed man drawn carts wandering about which were called honey carts. Full of household byproducts destined for fertilizer in the truck gardens.

                So, as archaeologists say, poo is knowledge. Let’s have more of it!

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

                What’s a truck garden rickflick?

              • rickflick
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

                A truck garden is – a farm where vegetables are grown for market. They must have gone under another name in Japan.

              • GBJames
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 6:56 am | Permalink

                @rickflick:

                Speaking of honey pots headed toward the truck garden… A very successful fertilizer is manufactured here in my home town Milorganite. Made from what I guess would have been called “honey” by those GI’s. You can get it at Amazon and fine home gardening stores everywhere. 😉

              • rickflick
                Posted February 26, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

                The descriptions of Milorganite on line give it a profound sense of aseptic purity. You could probably eat the stuff.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      it suggests ritual [I’m not gonna use the horrid, useless word “spiritual”!]

      Which is one of the reasons that the archaeological profession used “ritual” rather than “spiritual”. (I’m not going to waste electrons on journalists et al.)
      There was a recent ritual event in the States involving the celebration of many “Superb Owls”. Clearly the Ancient Greek Pantheon remains dominant in the Western hemisphere, with this being a festival devoted to Athena.

  16. Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating! Thanks, Jerry.

    Typo: The last “Hoffman” in the text. That misses a second n (you can delete this when you saw it :))

  17. Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    “That was after Neandertals became extinct and when “modern” H. sapiens had already colonized Europe from Africa around 40,000 years ago.”

    Do you actually propose that the colonization of Europe happened from NW Africa via Iberia or “colonized Europe from Africa” just an inadvertently ambiguous short for “originated in Africa and colonized Europe from Asia”?

    I am not familiar with studies on this question, but I always imagined the colonization happened from Asia. Especially since I have read that Iberia was the place where Neanderthals lasted longest.

    • nicky
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I always found that strange too, that ‘moderns’ did not cross the Gibraltar straits. There is no evidence they did.
      BTW, Moderns did not always ‘outdo’ the Neanderthals, in the Near East the ‘modern intrusion’ about 120 to 100 thousand years ago (during the Eemian) did not last, and they were succeeded by Neanderthals.
      I always wondered if these ‘replacements’ were just happening by environmental factors or by things we would call genocide now.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted February 24, 2018 at 1:29 am | Permalink

        There’s an interesting article in the Independent with the headline:

        Britain’s prehistoric catastrophe revealed: How 90% of the neolithic population vanished in just 300 years
        Ancient Britons may have been nearly wiped out by bubonic plague brought by newcomers to the island

        Apparently, there is no evidence of genocide. The Beaker people who came to Britain seem to have brought with them diseases that the Neolithic and long-islanded inhabitants had no immunity to. (As in the Americas.)

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          I haven’t seen that Independent article, but it’s a generalism that most of our major killing diseases are zoonotic diseases transferred from animals which we domesticated. (We probably carried our own range of diseases too, which we infected our crop animals with.)
          The Beakers brought a package of crops, domesticated animals (goats, sheep, maybe cattle), behaviours and pottery styles (the eponymous Beakers) along with their bodies.
          300 years is about 13 generations. To achieve 90% population replacement (well outgrowth) in that time needs about 20% improvement in survival from one generation to the next. That means that a (extended) family hut of three breeding pairs of the Beakers had on average 7 surviving children, compared to 6 in the non-Beaker hut-around-the-corner. Literally, you wouldn’t have noticed the replacement unless you were keeping records. Which might be why the Middle-Easterners invented writing.

  18. Posted February 23, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Cool, I will someday see the Lascaux (reproductions). Ancient art fascinates me.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      What’s the story behind those great pictures?

      • rickflick
        Posted February 23, 2018 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        Looks like North American graphics.

  19. Steve Pollard
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Very exciting and remarkably moving, especially the handprint.

  20. Janet
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    This inspires lots of introspection! Love it. By the way, I have always wondered if perhaps the squares in ancient cave art (seen here in the so called ‘ladder’ and also at Lascaux for example) could represent corrals or traps for animals? I’ve never heard this proposed but it seems so reasonable. In this cave, there are even animals drawn within the squares.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Good idea

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        … how to test it?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      @Gravel
      Look for natural features near the caves that could form funnels to drive a herd into? Then examine that same area for evidence of butchery – bones & cutting stones, cutting bones. Carbon dating is usually cut off at 50k years, but sometimes 75k years is possible.

      Do you have any suggestions?

      I also wonder if the iron oxides in the ‘ladder’ & the imagery within can tell us something about the relative timings of the elements in the ‘art’ – if were really lucky there might be rare contaminants in the pigments, but I’m reaching…

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

      What little I know about such traps comes from Native Americans who used pyramidal shaped enclosures made of delineating stones, wood or people to funnel animals to the tip. There, they were easier to spear, shoot with arrows, or run off a cliff. There are many buffalo jumps on this continent. Pens and fences seemed not to arrive until later. Even then, the ones in the southwest were not likely to be shaped as squares and could be made of wood or cacti.

      • Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, Michael. I should have continued on, read your post, and not commented.

  21. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting. The neanderthals are regularly being elevated from the old ideas that they were unthinking brutes. But I cannot somehow shake the notion that they had a cognitive ceiling above them since they are, far as I have heard anyway, not known for advanced types of implements beyond things like a thrusting spear and hide scrapers and so on. This while they are also suspected of having hide clothing, adornment, and maybe music.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      They couldn’t live along glacial margins for hundreds of thousands of years without a pretty good clothing technology.

  22. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but what about the recent reports of H sapiens being in Europe in the range of 80,000 years ago? I take that to mean our subspecies, not neanderthals.
    See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3798411/Climate-change-drove-early-humans-leave-Africa-four-waves-beginning-100-000-years-ago.html for example.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Yes it means us, but the article says they didn’t include Neanderthals in their model – the model assumes a world without them:

      The new study addresses for the first time with a computer model whether these naturally occurring climate shifts influenced global human migration patterns.

      Comparing simulations of the human migration model with and without these climate fluctuations, the researchers found only regional impacts on simulated human density in areas extending from northern Africa to Europe.

      Professor Timmermann said: ‘According to our results, the global-scale migration patterns were not affected by past abrupt climate change events on timescales of decades.’

      The team next plans to include Neanderthals in its computer model and account for food competition, interbreeding and cultural developments to get a better idea of how modern man eventually came to populate Earth.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      The dating of the flowstone overgrowths over the artificially applied pigment provides a date after which the pigments could not have been applied. The technical term is a terminus ante quem. So, with a U-Th series date for the flowstone of, say, 55kyr BP, then it is possible that the painting was done at 100kyr BP.
      Stratigraphy needs lots of measurements to tie down events, and you have to be very persnicketty about what you’re talking about. When I’m having to deal with data from the micropalaeo people, we have to note FDOs (First Downhole Occurrence), maximal abundance (acme), and the long, long tail of cavings coming off the wellbore wall instead of the bottom of the hole. For dozens of species. That’s with a constant stream of samples, low (3,5 or 10m) shot noise, and facilities for 12/7, 18/7 or 24/7 operation.

      Archaeologists meanwhile struggle by on one or two data points, and have to wring the maximum they can out of them, without wringing out one bit more.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        Despite the difficulty, archaeologists have made amazing progress recently. More bones and tools uncovered, and now genetic profiles of a handful of prehistoric individuals in Europe and Asia. It is so unfortunate that much of Africa is to hot and humid to preserve DNA for very long. We may never have much genetic info to go on in the pre-African exodus era.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 26, 2018 at 7:04 am | Permalink

          True about DNA preservation in warm and humid climates. On the other hand, there is this from the same issue of Science as the Neanderthal art reporting. ‘Extinct’ Caribbeans have living descendants: Ancient DNA from Taino woman shows kinship to modern genomes. Of course the time scales are not that extreme here, the sample was only 1000 years old. Still, with the right amount of luck…

          • rickflick
            Posted February 26, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

            That’s pretty surprising. Although, 1000 years old is pretty young compared to the time scales we see in Siberia and Alaska.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 2, 2018 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          True. Same problem for any tropical species, of course. The best hope is for something in the Ethiopian highlands, and that’s not a very strong hope.

  23. Posted February 23, 2018 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure of the current status, but caves in Nerja near Malaga in Spain either were or still are considered to contain Neanderthal paintings. The claim was first made in 2013.

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21458-first-neanderthal-cave-paintings-discovered-in-spain/

    The paintings aren’t visible to the public, to protect them, but the museum at the site claims the art was done by Neanderthals. (I was there last year.)

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 23, 2018 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      I can’t see anything new on these Iberian caves since 2013 & it’s a big tourist draw. Perhaps local officials are more interested in museum shop footfall & selling tickets for concerts in the caves?

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps no one has provided funding to carry out a nose-tip search (at night, so you’d need to pay the site staff overtime), followed by sample collection and testing. Science doesn’t come for free.
        I can’t find a description of the sizes of those specific caves, but to have a good look at a known panel, I’d put aside a couple of hours per square metre. Plus whatever time is needed to get staging into position to work on.

  24. Dale Franzwa
    Posted February 24, 2018 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Excellent post.

  25. Posted March 3, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I love these Cave Paintings. I did an art exercise where I had to stare at a rock for a prolonged time then i was to draw it. To my amazement, I saw figures coming from the rock. I really get it how these pictures came into being from this exercise.

    I still to this day am influenced by this exercise as I take photographs that are of rocks. I call my work as Rocktography.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      “I had to stare at a rock for a prolonged time then i was to draw it.”

      …. moment of zen? In both senses?

      …. I might try this …

  26. Posted March 10, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Holroyd the Rocktographer and commented:
    I have a more modern connection to Cave Paintings but these have a real fascination for me.


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