Cave paintings in the northern Spanish El Castillo. Image: Pedro Saura
Vorlesen So far, scientists were actually sure: The first works of art were created in Europe, and their authors were modern humans. At least the latter questioned a recent science study now, because a new dating method now revealed for cave paintings in northern Spain, an age of at least 40, 000 years. At this time, the modern man was not alone in this area: here also lived Neanderthals. Cave paintings give paleontologists a testimony of when in human history a sense of symbolic expression and art began. With an estimated age of 37, 000 years, the drawings of animals and geometric forms discovered in 2007 in the southern French cave Abri Castanet were previously considered the oldest known examples of cave art. The dating of cave paintings, however, represents a great difficulty for paleoanthropologists. In general, the paintings contain hardly any organic material. However, this is an important prerequisite for the most common dating method based on the decay of the naturally occurring 14C radioactive isotope. Therefore, a team of British, Spanish and Portuguese scientists led by Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol, in a recent science study, used a different method to determine the age of drawings and paintings in eleven Northern Spanish caves. These red dots are according to a recent study, at least 40, 800 years old - and thus the oldest known cave paintings. Image: Pedro Saura, Cave El Castillo The researchers dated lime deposits, which had formed on the total of 50 examined works, on the basis of their content of thorium-230. This is due to the radioactive decay of uranium, which was incorporated in the formation of the material. From the age of the limescale deposits, the scientists were able to deduce the minimum age of the underlying artworks. The spectacular result of the dating sets the beginning of cave painting in Europe back several millennia: So is the image of a group of red slices in the cave El Castillo, according to the authors, at least 40, 800 years old. For the outline of a hand in the same cave, the scientists found a minimum age of 37, 300 years, and for the image of a pin 35, 600 years. Modern humans have been proven in Europe for around 42, 000 years. According to them, they would have either already brought back cave paintings as part of their cultural repertoire, or they had developed that ability very soon after their arrival. Over 37, 000 years old hand outlines. Are they from Neanderthals? Image: Pedro Saurafa, El Castillo Cave One of the reasons that cave painting is thought to have originated in Europe, study leader Pike notes that the resource conflict with the Neanderthals within the first group of modern humans has stimulated cultural innovation and thereby ensured their survival, However, Pike points out another possibility of who the artists in the northern Spanish caves might have been: • Cave painting could have begun even before the arrival of modern humans and came from the Neanderthals. That would be a fantastic discovery, because it would mean that the hand contours on the walls of the caves are from Neanderthal hands. He acknowledges, however, that one has to date more examples to see if that is indeed the case. It is possible, because the youngest traces of Neanderthals in northern Spain are just 42, 000 years old and the extinction of the archaic human species is estimated at 30, 000 years before Christ. Regardless of the creators of the paintings and drawings in the Spanish caves, these illustrate how the style of the cave artists changed over time: While older works such as the ones examined in the current study were more monochrome and showed no figures, the painting style developed within the following millennia towards figurative and multicolor. Here, too, earlier paintings have often been painted over by newer ones, such as in the famous Altamira Cave, which can be seen in the following video. After 46 seconds, some red symbols appear that are at least 35, 600 years old, according to the new study. The multicolored bison that covers the red symbols is only about half as old. Video: National Museum and Research Center of Altamira

Alistair Pike (University of Bristol) et al .: Science, doi: 10.1126 / science.1219957 © Maren Emmerich


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