When we talk about cave paintings and cave art, it’s normal to imagine a human ancestor, like Homo erectus, painting animals and hand outlines on the walls of her hiding places. But what if we told you that the first paintings made in history were not human works, but Neanderthals? The controversial subject is the subject of research by several scientists, such as archaeologist Paul Pettitt.
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The scientific community has determined in recent years that Homo neanderthalensis did indeed produce art—from time to time. Their communities had, just like ours or those of chimpanzees, different cultural expressions, varying according to the group and the evolutionary era in which they were.
Evolution of Neanderthals
The works of the species were more abstract than the animals and hands made by humans, who only started painting after the Neanderthals disappeared, 30,000 years ago. The direct ancestors of Homo sapiens appeared in Africa 315,000 years ago, while our relatives H. neanderthalensis have been shown to have been in Europe for at least 400,000 years.
After wandering the continent for a while, they began mixing minerals like hematite, or ochre, and manganese with certain fluids to make red and black ink to decorate their bodies and clothes, scientists believe. This would have happened about 250,000 years ago. We found evidence of their artistic practices by finding footprints, signs of tool use and pigments deep in caves, places where there would be no obvious biological reason for Neanderthals to frequent.
Curiosity and culture are key to understanding this behavior. Going into the depths of a cave without water or food to paint caves must have some higher, ritualistic or societal motive, not just exploration. Neanderthal groups were small, close-knit and nomadic, carrying embers to build fires in the rock shelters and riverbanks where they camped. With tools, they sharpened spears and cut up carcasses. It was a family social and cultural life, with barter between groups and also competitions.
Neanderthal art through the ages
The cultural changes of the species were reflected in its visual production. Science has noticed increases in the use of pigments and body ornaments throughout the existence of Neanderthals, probably with the aim of competing for leadership of the group, increasingly sophisticated methods of coloring and ornamentation, demonstrating power and convincing others of their strength and skill. of leadership.
At least 65,000 years ago, then, red paints were used to mark the deep caves of Spain, in Ardales and Malaga, for example, painting the concave parts of shiny white stalactites. In Extremadura, in the cave of Maltravieso, the contours of hands were painted. In Cantabria, in the cave of Pasiega, a rectangle was drawn with ink on the fingertips.
About 15,000 years later, personal ornaments began to appear on the bodies of H. neanderthalensis, composed of animal parts such as teeth, shells and broken bones. At that time, our H. sapiens ancestors wore similar things, a sign of shared communication and likely understood by all.
Neanderthals may not have made figurative art like we humans have since 37,000 years ago, but it is no badge of modernity any more than its absence is a badge of primitivism. The species preferred adorning bodies rather than focusing on caves, but it’s interesting that H. sapiens only started drawing animals after the extinction of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and all other hominid species—none of them did that in mixed Eurasia from 300,000 to 40,000 years ago. Something to reflect on, and, of course, study in the future.
Source: The Conversation