Neanderthals... and not modern humans... were Earth's first artists
London: Neanderthals, rather than modern humans, created the world's oldest known cave paintings - suggesting they may have had an artistic sense similar to our own, a study has found.
The research, published in the journal Science, shows that paintings in three caves in Spain were created more than 64,000 years ago - 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe.
"This is an incredibly exciting discovery which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed," said Chris Standish, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton in the UK.
"Our results show that the paintings we dated are, by far, the oldest known cave art in the world, and were created at least 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa - therefore they must have been painted by Neanderthals," said Standish.
This means that the Palaeolithic (Ice Age) cave art - including pictures of animals, dots and geometric signs - must have been made by Neanderthals, a 'sister' species to Homo sapiens, and Europe's sole human inhabitants at the time.
It also indicates that they thought symbolically, like modern humans, researchers said. An international team of scientists led by the University of Southampton and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany used a state-of-the-art technique called uranium-thorium dating to fix the age of the paintings as more than 64,000 years. Until now, cave art has been attributed entirely to modern humans, as claims to a possible Neanderthal origin have been hampered by imprecise dating techniques.
However, uranium-thorium dating provides much more reliable results than methods such as radiocarbon dating, which can give false age estimates.