Why are we Homo sapiens so keen to attribute the world’s oldest cave art to Neanderthals when there’s stronger evidence to suggest that art came from us?

Why do Neanderthals so fascinate Homo sapiens? And why are we so keen to exaggerate their virtues?

It is political correctness gone prehistoric. At every opportunity, people rush to attribute “human” virtues to this extinct human-like species. The latest generosity is to credit them with the first true art.

recent redating of cave art in Spain has revealed the oldest paintings in Europe. A red dot in the cave El Castillo has now been dated at 40,800 years ago – considerably older than the cave art of Chauvet in France and contemporary with the arrival of the very first “modern humans”, Homo sapiens, in Europe.

This raises two possibilities, point out the researchers. Either the new humans from Africa started painting in caves the moment they entered Europe, or painting was already being done by the Neanderthals who were at that moment the most numerous relatives of modern humans on the European continent. One expert confesses to a “hunch” – which he acknowledges cannot be proven as things stand – that Neanderthals were painters.

That hunch goes against the weight of the existing evidence. Of course that hasn’t stopped it dominating all reports of the story: as far as media impressions go, the Neanderthals were now officially the first artists. Yet nothing of the sort has been proven, and plenty of evidence suggests that the traditional view is still far more likely.

In this view, the precocious development of art in ice age Europe marks out the first appearance of modern human consciousness, the intellectual birth of our species, the hand of Homo sapiens making its mark.

Continue reading in The Guardian


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