Science & Tech
New study claims Neanderthals were artists and thought like us
What these teams of archaeologists are finding in these ancient caves at La Pasiega is contributing to a turnabout in our understanding of our ancient cousins, the Neanderthals.
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The scientist from Germany's Max Planck Institute and the UK's University of Southampton gained special access to the area last year.
Their task was to take samples so that they could accurately date the age of these painting, suspecting that identifying other objects of Neanderthal origin may have been hampered imprecise dating techniques.
Close inspection of the rock here shows a red outline with the distinct shape of an animal within it. It's rudimentary like other which include red dots and disks on curtain-like rock formations.
Another is a stenciled outline of a hand, made by spewing pigment over a hand held against the wall.
Making the hand stencil involves so many steps, including preparation of the pigment and a light source deep in the cave, that the authors claim it was clearly a deliberate creation.
What's more they say a number of hand stencils seem to have been placed in specific places with care, rather than randomly making them meaningful symbols.
Dr. Dirk Hoffmann of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology says: "You see animal paintings, so here's the backhalf of an animal. We don't know what type of animal it is and here very fading is the front part here, the head of an animal, the legs, ears. On top of this squares you see lots of red dots."
The team wanted to establish precisely when the drawings made with a red pigment dye was actually created using uranium-thorium dating which they claim provides more reliable results than radiocarbon dating.
The search for our ancient ancestors has captured our imaginations for as long as we can remember.
Scientists say Neanderthals in Europe predated modern humans by twenty thousand years, but they also lived side by side with Homo sapiens after the latter's arrival.
Reports published in the journals Science and Science Advances today (19:00GMT 22 February) suggest Neanderthals used a complex symbolic communication systems.
The emergence of these systems has been hard to pinpoint because of difficulties in precise and accurate dating.
Scientists often use radiocarbon dating, but Alistair Pike, Professor of Archaeological Sciences, University of Southampton says: "But we can't do this with these kind of paintings because they're made out of mineral pigments, so instead we're focusing on these tiny white crusts which have formed on top of the paintings and they're made of calcium carbonate and they're formed by the water percolating through the rocks and they precipitate out calcite. If this calcite is precipitated on top of the painting, the painting must have been there for it to precipitate on top, which means the painting must be older that the age of the calcite."
Researchers analyzed rock that had formed above the deposit where the shells had been found, to provide a minimum age for the shells.
Results indicated the shells were around 115,000 years old.
That is some 20,000 to 40,000 years older than comparable artefacts in Africa or western Asia that are attributed to Homo sapiens. The researchers believe the finding shows Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were "indistinguishable" in terms of mental ability.
Hoffmann says: "Sixty four thousand years ago in Spain there was only one human species living and that was Neanderthals, the modern humans, like us, they arrived in Spain about forty-thousand years ago."
This tiny figured, carefully carved from mammoth ivory, is over 40,000 years old and is the oldest known image of a human.
It was found in a cave in Baden-Wuerttemberg in the valleys of the Ach and Lone rivers.
Six caves in the region have been excavated since the 19th century and have yielded hundreds of personal ornaments, at least eight musical instruments and more than 40 small figurines carved from mammoth ivory, but the creation of these objects has been attributed to the modern humans not Neanderthals.
But when it comes to the caves studied in