Researchers have discovered that Neanderthals, not homo sapiens, created a series of 64,000 year-old cave drawings in Spain. Published in the journal Science, this study marks the first time that Neanderthals have been credited as cave painters – and it deems the works of art the oldest known cave paintings. Utilizing advanced radioactive dating, the scientists determined that paintings made in three separate caves are far older than originally thought – they were created 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in the area.

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The Neanderthal’s reputation as a bulkier, dumber kind of human seems to be misinformed. “It’s impossible to say that one is more clever than the other,” archaeology professor Marie Soressi told the Verge. An earlier theory speculated that Neanderthals only developed a culture after the arrival of modern humans in Europe between 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. The Neanderthal cave artwork proves that the species were creative and maintained their own culture and accompanying art. Neanderthals are also known to have used eagle claws and shells in their clothing as well as pigments to add color.

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Previous efforts to determine the age of cave art were complicated by dating technology limitations. The most common method works exclusively with organic matter; using uranium‘s radioactive decay as a metric requires a great deal of material to be dated, something that is not possible in rare, delicate discoveries like early human cave art. The scientists used a new method of dating in which they scrapped off only the crust of the cave painting, samples which are then dated in a laboratory.

Via The Verge

Images via D.L. Hoffman, C.D. Standish, et al.