Neanderthals survived for almost 300,000 years because of compassion


Despite their reputation as brutish cavemen, Neanderthals survived for almost 300,000 years because they were compassionate, scientists claim.

A study of remains showed most had injuries that needed massage, fever management and good hygiene provided out of genuine feelings for others rather than self-interest.

Dr Penny Spikins, of York University, said: ‘Neanderthals did not think in terms of whether others might repay their efforts. 

‘They responded to seeing their loved-ones suffering.’

The study, published in the journal World Archaeology, undermines the traditional view of Neanderthals, who occupied Europe and Asia from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago, as thugs.

Neanderthals have also long had a reputation for being dimwits – too thick to paint or draw pictures of animals on caves like our later human ancestors.

But far from being feeble brained knuckledraggers, new research shows they were the world’s first artists.

Pictures of swirling dots, ladders, pictures of animals and outlines of hands- in vivid scarlet and black have been discovered to be their handiwork.

The paintings were previously thought to have been the handiwork of our modern human ancestors, Homo sapiens.

But cutting edge techniques date the oldest sketches to 64,000 years ago – 20,000 years before early humans made it to Europe.

The art was found deep inside three separate caverns in Spain some 434 miles apart: La Pasiega in the north, Maltravieso in central Spain, and Ardales in the south.

Professor Alistair Pike, from the University of Southampton, one of the authors of the research, published in Science said:

‘Ever since Neanderthal fossils were found in the 19th century, they have had a bad press.

‘In fact, the original name for Neanderthals was proposed as Homo stupidus, the stupid human.

‘And people have portrayed them as incapable of symbolic thought.

‘What we have found here is evidence of Neanderthal painting. Not just smearing something on the wall, but painting something on the wall which represents something.’

Archaeologist and joint lead researcher Dr Chris Standish, from the University of Southampton, said: ‘Our results show that the paintings we dated are, by far, the oldest known cave art in the world, and were created at least 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa – therefore they must have been painted by Neanderthals.’

Scientists previously thought it was an ‘impossible coincidence’ that Neanderthals were making cave art at the same time when ‘modern humans were already in or at the gates of Europe’.

The Neanderthals must have copied Homo Sapiens, the thinking went.

Now study co-author Professor Paul Pettitt, from the University of Durham, said other cave art may now be found to be made by Neanderthal hands – rather than Homo sapiens.

He said: ‘Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in meaningful places. The art is not a one-off accident.

‘It’s in the depths of caves, where they have to be one assumes, for ritual purpose. This is outside of their normal living zone.’

He added: ‘It is quite possible that similar cave art in other caves in western Europe is of Neanderthal origin as well.’

The dating method involved sampling ultra-thin carbonate deposits built up over time on top of the paintings.

Scientists used a method more accurate than carbon dating involving measuring traces of the radioactive element uranium and thorium.

By calculating the relative levels of both elements, scientists can calculate precisely how much time has passed, as uranium transforms into thorium by a process of radioactive decay at a precise rate.

As the samples were on top, it indicates that what lies beneath must be older than the deposit.

And in a separate Spanish cave, at Cueva de los Aviones, in south-east Spain scientists have found even older evidence of early decorative art.

Researchers found seashells with drilled holes stained red for use as pendants – dating to 115,000 years ago.

Again the shells can only be the work of Neanderthals, as Homo Sapiens were not present.    



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