Saturday, September 20, 2014


El Castillo cave, Photograph by Pedro Saura,

On Saturday April 21, 2012, in a posting entitled "Neanderthal Use of Red Ochre Pigment", I speculated that I thought that Neanderthal rock art would be identified eventually. I just had no idea that it might 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 period of possible Neanderthal occupation.

Recent dates in the cave of El Castillo, in Northern Spain have pushed back the dates of the creation of the art to at least 40,800 years BP according to research published June 14 in Science. A research team led by the University of Bristol and including Dr. Paul Pettitt, a specialist in cave art, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, found that the creation of the first cave art in Europe dates back to up to 10,000 years earlier than previously believed suggesting that the first paintings were created either by the first anatomically modern humans to reach Europe, or possibly by Neanderthals. “A total of 50 paintings in 11 caves in Northern Spain, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo and Tito Bustillo, were dated by a team of UK, Spanish and Portuguese researchers led by Dr. Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol, UK.”

“As traditional methods such as radiocarbon dating do not work where there is no organic pigment, the team dated the formation of tiny stalactites on top of the paintings using the radioactive decay of uranium. This gave a minimum age for the art. Where larger stalagmites had been painted, maximum ages were also obtained.”

Hand Stencils in El Castillo cave. 
Photograph from the Internet.

“Hand stencils and disks made by blowing paint onto the wall in El Castillo cave were found to date back to at least 40,800 years, making them the oldest known cave art in Europe, 5 – 10,000 years older than previous examples from France.”

“A large club-shaped symbol in the famous polychrome chamber at Altamira was found to be at least 35,600 years old, indicating that painting started there 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, and that the cave was revisited and painted a number of times over a period spanning more than 20,000 years.”

“Dr. Pike said: “Evidence for modern humans in Northern Spain dates back to 41,500 years ago, and before them were Neanderthals. Our results show that either modern humans arrived with painting already part of their cultural activity or it developed very shortly after, perhaps in response to competition with Neanderthals – or perhaps the art is Neanderthal art. The creation of art by humans is considered an important marker for the evolution of modern cognition and symbolic behavior, and may be associated with the development of language.”


University of Bristol. “Uranium-series dating reveals Iberian paintings are Europe’s oldest cave art.”  ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 14 June 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment