New research has found that the earliest cave paintings are at least 65,000 years old, suggesting Neanderthals were the first artists.
Researchers examined work found in three Spanish caves, finding they were produced a minimum of 65,000 years ago. The age suggests Neanderthals, the extinct cousin of modern humans, created the work given that Homo sapiens are not believed to have arrived in Europe until 25,000 years later. To date the cave paintings, the research team used a method called uranium-thorium dating, which has been criticized for the physical damage it can require. Previously, the dating technique involved scraping large amounts of matter from the cave’s wall, but as technology has advanced, extracting copious amounts of material is no longer necessary. Now, a small amount of stone and a great deal of attention are all that’s needed for uranium-thorium dating to reveal an accurate time frame for when a work was created. “I think it was an excellent, really careful study and speaks to the fact that with these new technologies, we keep discovering exciting new things we didn’t have the capacity to discover before,” paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger told Smithsonian Magazine.