By Deb A.
'Neanderthal' often functions as a synonym for 'culturally primitive,' but a recent discovery shows that in fact, Neanderthals were Europe's first artists, creating paintings and drawings well before Homo sapiens.
This week a study in Science announced that Neanderthals were making cave paintings in Spain over 20,000 years before modern humans came onto the European scene. This discovery does not mean that Neanderthals were the world's first artists--that honour goes to Homo erectus, who carved lines into ochre in South Africa 100,000 years ago--but it does indicate that we are not the only species to find creative expression through abstract art. We appear to have more in common with Neanderthals than we'd thought.
Scientists have been unable to decipher the meanings of the art found in the Spanish sites, but study co-author Professor Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton notes that "as to the meaning [of the artworks], I don't think we'll ever know. But I think we're pretty happy to say it's meaningful." The artworks' messages may remain a mystery, but the very fact of their existence means that it's time for us to once again rethink our place in the world.
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