Famous Cave Paintings Might Not Be From ‘Humans’

The Panel of Hands in the Cave of El Castillo in Spain. New dating approaches suggest the paintings could have been drawn by Neanderthals, not humans, as previously believed.

The popular paintings on the walls of caves in Europe mark the starting of figurative art and a wonderful leap forward for human culture.

But now a novel method of figuring out the age of some of those cave paintings questions their provenance. Not that they are fakes — only that it could not have been modern day humans who made them.

The first European cave paintings are thought to have been made over 30,000 years ago. Most depict animals and hunters. Some of the eeriest are stencils of human hands, apparently made by blowing a spray of pigment over a hand held up to a wall.

But now scientists are suggesting those are not human hands, at least in some caves in Spain.

Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol in England who utilised a novel approach to get new dates for some of these paintings, says they’re older than men and women believed, and they may just predate the arrival of humans in Europe.

“What we are saying is that we need to entertain the possibility that these paintings were made by Neanderthals,” Pike says. Those were humans’ closest relatives, but they are not our species.

Pike says some of these paintings in Spain are at least 40,800 years old. At that time, Neanderthals had been operating around Europe for 200,000 or 300,000 years. Contemporary humans had just arrived from Africa.

Pike concedes that maybe modern day humans arrived in Europe with palette and pigment in hand, ready to paint up the town.

But the paintings could be even older.

Sources and more information:

• Famous cave paintings in Spain could be from Neanderthals not humans

Some of the most famous cave paintings in the world are on the walls of the cave in El Castillo, Spain. The paintings include what’s called the Panel of Hands that shows where ancient humans held their hands up to the cave wall and painted around them. Or at least, the hand art has long been believed to have been created by ancient humans.

• Earliest European Cave Art

The El Castillo Cave in Spain. The refined dating shows these paintings to be far older than anyone thought From the BBC website: Red dots, hand stencils and animal figures represent the oldest examples yet found of cave art in Europe. The symbols on the walls at 11 Spanish locations, including the World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo and…

• First Painters May Have Been Neanderthal, Not Human

• Were Neanderthals Europe’s First Cave Artists?