Neanderthals turned out to be the creators of the world’s oldest gallery of cave paintings. Scientists from the University of Tours, France, discovered 57,000-year-old fingerprints on the walls of La Roche Cave in the center of the Val de Loire in north-central France. These marks were not made by Homo sapiens, since we had not yet settled in this part of Europe at that time, but by our close relatives, the Neanderthals.
The marks consist of “finger grooves”, essentially lines imprinted on the soft sediment of the cave wall. Researchers believe that these simple markings were not a mistake. After analyzing their shape and location, the team concluded that they were deliberate, organized and deliberate shapes created by hands.
According to the scientists, this proves that Neanderthals were incredibly creative creatures, their intellectual abilities far exceeding our ideas about them. They created brilliant works of art, took care of the vulnerable in their community and created an incredibly rich culture.
Comparisons with other known “experimental” human markings also indicate that La Roche Cotar fingerprints were made in an active display of creativity. At Cueva de Ardales, in southern Spain, there is a collection of painted cave stalagmites believed to be about 65,000 years old. Again, they were created by Neanderthals, not Homo sapiens.
In terms of most ancient pictorial art, this honor now goes to Homo sapiens, who painted a fat-bellied pig in Indonesia at least 45,500 years ago. The previous record holder among the world’s earliest figurative works of art was a painting of wild cows found in a cave in Borneo, thought to be about 40,000 years old, also created by Homo sapiens.
Neanderthals have often been depicted as “cavemen” with bushy eyebrows who lacked the cognitive abilities that make our species so important, but this idea is now widely dispelled. Plenty of evidence shows that Neanderthals were incredibly intelligent creatures.
Although it is still not entirely clear why they went extinct about 40,000 years ago, it almost certainly was not due to a lack of intelligence. Perhaps their extinction was due to climate change or competition with Homo sapiens.