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Did the "dull-witted" Neanderthals, our extinct cousins create cave paintings?

The archaeologists busy researching the age of the Paleolithic caves in Spain with new techniques discovered that the paintings on the cave walls were much older than they had anticipated. The paintings unearthed were done thousands of years earlier than they had estimated earlier. It pointed towards the time of the Neanderthals!

Neanderthals are the closest extinct cousins. This sub species of Homo sapiens existed 80,000-50,000 years ago and was said to have a low intelligence. "Neanderthals, of course, have had this bad press for a long time," Joao Zilhao, a research team member from the University of Barcelona told the reporters. "But the research developments over the last decade have shown that this is probably not deserved."

The process is an “ongoing program” according to Alistair Pike from the University that can help in dating the European Caves full of paintings in times to come. Pike is the lead author of a science paper brought out in the Journal Science. Pike feels that it is still an assumption that the art works are done by Neanderthals but the paintings do go back nearly 40,800 years back.

Carbon dating has proved that this time coincides with the presence of our extinct cave-men cousins. 50 Paleolithic paintings from about 11 caves in Spain were studied. The paintings at the El Castillo and the Altamira caves that included creations of human hands and horses were also taken under the wing of the archaeologists.

The new technique was used over radio carbon testing for analyzing calcite deposits around the cave art having thorium, uranium and similar elements in different proportions.

"We were not expecting these results," claimed Zilhao "When we put this project together, the idea was to improve the chronology of rock art, and particularly in the case of Spain."

Dean Snow, a Penn State archaeologist, who has also worked independently on the same cave paintings felt “the basic findings are the sorts of things you could take to the bank". He said "Now, with these older dates, we have to entertain the possibility that there might have been some Neanderthal involvement in some of these paintings," Snow is said to have claimed. "We've never really seriously considered that before."

A thorough research from further scrapings is expected in the future too, to sample the flowstone deposits as well to get to know the maximum age. "It is very important stuff, and one more piece in the puzzle minimizing the differences between the behavioral/cognitive capabilities and actual behaviors of Neanderthals and modern humans," said another anthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University who was not a part of the recent study.

The Paintings of Hands, animals and shapes could unravel many human evolution enigmas in future. This will prove that early man possessed cognitive capacity and higher brain functions. It’s a different thrill to see the hand imprint of an ancestor on the cave. Isn’t it?