For some reason a lot of people are intent on “humanizing” Neanderthals and other hominid species. Since there is disagreement about what it means to be human, there is plenty of room to argue about it. But while what we define as “human” may be a matter of opinion, the things used to support our choice should be a matter of facts. I don’t see that happening here.
One manifestation of this was the declaration that Neanderthals were responsible for “cave art” in Spain around 66,000 years ago. This headline blared “Neanderthal Artwork Confirmed.” The Washington Post was more cautious, saying they may have been the artists.
The main reason to assume that Neanderthals were the artists is that uranium-thorium dating of calcite deposits on top of the lines of the red earth material they used for “paint” dated the finds in three caves to a time when it is thought Neanderthals were the only hominids around- 66,000 years ago in the case of the oldest date. Our species was not thought to have made it to Spain until 45,000 years ago. That date counts on the idea that the calcite deposit legitimately grew after the “paint” was applied instead of just an artifact of the “paint” having less ability to adhere to the surface of a crystal compared to limestone cave walls.
The other thing is, no remains of either us or them have been found at the sites in question. Scientists think that modern humans did not come along until later, but how many times have we heard recently that humans were in one place or another earlier than what was previously thought? And since Spain is practically connected to North Africa its not like a human presence there would have to start from the Mid-east or Eastern Europe as it appears happened with the wave of human occupation which “stuck”.
But that is speculation. Let me get to the evidence. The most elaborate “painting” they found was a box within a box like so…
Now it turns out that there are 32 symbols that true modern humans used in cave art for at least 30,000 years. This indicates that these where not random drawings but each symbol communicated something across many generations of time over a vast geographic area.
Now I want you to compare the picture above, which contains what they claim is something painted by Neanderthals in a cave in Spain some 60-odd thousand years ago to the picture below which was undoubtedly painted by our species in a cave in Spain …
It sure looks like the earlier cave art is an formative example of the bottom symbols. In this case one of the 32 symbols known as a “Spanish Tectiform”.
As if that wasn’t enough in itself to make one question if the earlier art was made by a separate species, there is the issue of the negative hand prints. We have never seen a Neanderthal hand in the flesh, but if you go by the size of the last little bit of bone on the end of their fingers, they must have had hugely thick fingertips compared to humans. Perhaps double the thickness.
But the hand prints found look like they are within the range of normal human proportions.
I think there is a story here, but its not that Neanderthals made cave art. It is that some group of humans, H. Sapiens, occupied Spain long before we thought that they had.