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Machines Like Us

The art of loving Neandertals

Monday, 25 June 2012

Media commentators have been eager to paint Neandertals as artists – but why? Credit: Federico Gambarini/AAP

An article published recently in Science sheds new light on paintings found in 11 cave sites in Spain. At 40,800 years old, some of these paintings could be among the oldest anywhere in the world.

But were these paintings done by Neandertals or the modern humans who replaced them? From the headlines you would think it was the Neandertals.

Taken together with other recent publications, summarised in the image of Google search results below, the Spanish results suggest the habit of producing art in various forms went back to the earliest appearance of modern humans in Europe.

This is only about 5,000 or 10,000 years after people also reached Australia. Why then did the media grab the idea that the paintings might have been made by Neandertals, who were replaced by these artistic modern humans in Europe?