Saturday, June 30, 2012


Panel of hands at El Castillo, Spain.

On April 21, 2012, in a posting entitled “Neandertal Use of Red Ochre Pigment,” I speculated that Neandertal rock art would be identified eventually, I just had no idea that it would happen so soon. A column at dated June 14, 2012, written by Stephanie Pappas, announced the identification of a number of red ochre images on the walls of the Spanish cave El Castillo as dating to the Neandertal period.

These images are a panel of hands stenciled onto the cave wall made by placing the hand flat against the rock and blowing liquid red paint over it to outline the hand. These hands are also accompanied by some round red ochre spots that appear to have been blown directly onto the wall. The dating was done by uranium/thorium dating of the calcite layer over the paintings. Dating a number of caves gave a range of expected results but the date of 40,800 years B.P. for one of the red disks on the wall at El Castillo dates back to around the period that Homo sapiens first appeared in Europe. And a date of that age for the calcite layer means that the paint is some unknown number of years earlier. This raises the real possibility that some of the earliest imagery done at El Castillo could have been produced by Neandertal artists.


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