A recently discovered painting in Spanish caves in Costa Del Sol was found by scientists to be approximately 42,000 years old, making it the oldest artwork ever. What is more, this artwork is also the first known painting by Neanderthals, not homo sapiens. Professor Jose Luis Sanchidrian called it an "academic bombshell" and its effects will reverberate through the field of Art History for years to come.
Looking oddly akin to the DNA double helix, the images in fact depict the seals that the locals would have eaten, says José Luis Sanchidrián at the University of Cordoba, Spain. They have "no parallel in Palaeolithic art", he adds. His team say that charcoal remains found beside six of the paintings – preserved in Spain's Nerja caves – have been radiocarbon dated to between 43,500 and 42,300 years old.
That suggests the paintings may be substantially older than the 30,000-year-old Chauvet cave paintings in south-east France, thought to be the earliest example of Palaeolithic cave art.
Anatomically modern humans — that is, Homo sapiens sapiens, people who, anatomically speaking, were pretty much indistinguishable from the people who populate the world today — evolved as early as 200,000 years ago, but it took time for our ancestors to migrate across the globe, and for tens of thousands of years, while modern humans were spreading throughout Africa, Neanderthals still dominated Europe. Scientists working at Nerja have previously found Neanderthal tools dating to around 40,000 years ago in the caves, but there is no evidence that modern humans inhabited the caves at that time. The area is thought to be one of the last Neanderthal refuges before the Neanderthal extinction at around 30,000 B.C.E.
Who Were Neanderthals?
Neanderthals, like modern humans, belong to the group of primates
that scientists classify as the genus Homo. They lived in Europe, the
Middle East and parts of western Asia from about 500,000 years ago to
as recently as 30,000 years ago. Anatomically, Neanderthals were
shorter than modern humans, with thicker bones, more steeply-sloped
foreheads and heavier brow ridges.
They had bigger brains and muscles, but for some reason Neanderthals
died out about 30,000 years ago, while we modern humans survived.
Exactly why we, Homo sapiens, flourished and our Homo neandertalensis
cousins died out, is an evolutionary mystery that biologists are trying
to unravel. What experts do know is that although Neanderthals
disappeared long ago, their DNA lives on in all non-African people.
Not The Dimwitted Caveman Of Popular Culture
And that image from popular culture, of the Neanderthal as a
primitive and dimwitted caveman, is probably inaccurate. Scientists
believe they may actually have been the most advanced group of primates
besides modern humans, and despite their stocky bodies and thick skulls,
may have possessed intelligence almost on par with ours.