Neanderthals: Artistic, After All?

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June 16 2012 11:19 AM

Neanderthals: Artistic, After All?

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New scientific research suggests Neanderthals may have been more artistic than earlier believed.

Photo by HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images

We know they can sell insurance, but were Neanderthals artists too?

Scientists using improved radioactive carbon-dating techniques are now able to more accurately determine the age of Europe’s most famous prehistoric cave paintings. Their revelation? The so-called Panel of Hands in Spain’s El Castillo cave, simple red circles and hand stencils, were created more than 40 thousand years ago, when Neanderthals were known to exist. Hardly the sophisticated animal drawings of future cave artists, these ancient splotches and outlines could still prove that our assumptions about the cultural ignorance of Neanderthals aren’t exactly fair.

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There's only one problem with this Flintstone fine art theory. New science suggests that humans and Neanderthals were both in Europe at the same time—and like any good backpackers, they were also sharing, ahem, their beds. So without a signature at the bottom, we’re not sure who exactly made these paintings.

Researchers say there is a solution. Find an older cave painting, created before those pesky Homo sapien hipsters started polluting the art scene and making it all, err … highbrow.

Video by Paca Thomas.

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.

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