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Oldest Cave Paintings May Be Creations of Neandertals, Not Modern Humans

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Hand stencils in El Castillo cave

Hand stencils in El Castillo cave are older than previously thought. Image: courtesy of Pedro Saura

In a cave in northwestern Spain called El Castillo, ancient artists decorated a stretch of limestone wall with dozens of depictions of human hands. They seem to have made the images by pressing a hand to the wall and then blowing red pigment on it, creating a sort of stencil. Hand stencils are a common motif in the cave paintings of Spain and France, and like all cave art, they have long been considered to be the work of anatomically modern humans like us. But a new analysis of the age of the paintings in El Castillo and other Spanish caves shows that some of these paintings are much older than previously thought—old enough, in some cases, to be the handiwork of our cousins the Neandertals.

Determining the ages of cave paintings—from the hands in the Panel de las Manos in El Castillo to the mammoths and other Ice Age beasts that adorn the walls of Chauvet in France—has proved a difficult thing to do. Scientists can reliably assess the antiquity of human and animal bones as well as charcoal from hearths using proven techniques such as radiocarbon dating. But the thin layers of pigment found on cave walls usually do not contain the carbon needed for that approach, leaving archaeologists to estimate the age of the art based on its style or its apparent association with datable remains.

Now researchers writing in the June 15 issue of Science report that recent advances in another radiometric technique called uranium-thorium dating have allowed them to circumvent the problems of radiocarbon dating and determine minimum ages for the paintings. This dating method, which is based on the radioactive decay of uranium over time, has been around for decades. But only recently have scientists refined the technique such that they can apply it to samples small enough to get sufficiently precise results.

Archaeologists Alistair Pike of Bristol University in England and João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona in Spain and their colleagues used the uranium-thorium technique to date 50 paintings and engravings from 11 cave sites in Asturias and Cantabria. They did this by collecting samples of the thin crusts of calcium carbonate that formed atop the images through the same process that forms stalactites and stalagmites. The crusts incorporate small amounts of uranium, which decays into thorium over time. By analyzing the amount of thorium in a sample using a mass spectrometer, the researchers could determine how much time had passed since the crusts formed, thereby providing a minimum age for the images underneath.

Intriguingly, some of the paintings were significantly older than suspected. Experts thought that Spanish cave art was younger than French cave art. But the new results reveal one of the images at El Castillo—a large red disk on the Panel de las Manos—is at minimum 40,800 years old, making it some 4,000 years older than the Chauvet paintings, which were previously thought to be the oldest in the world. (Claims for comparably ancient cave art from Australia and India are not widely accepted on present evidence.) Other surprisingly old Spanish paintings identified in the study included a hand stencil from the Panel de las Manos that dates to at least 37,300 years ago and a club-shaped symbol from the famous Altamira cave that dates to 35,600 years ago at minimum.

Pike, Zilhão and their collaborators observe that the new results are consistent with the idea that the complexity of art increased gradually over time. The earliest dates they obtained were for non-figurative art—disks, hand stencils, and such–rendered in a single color. Only later did people paint animals and use pigments of multiple hues.

But the team’s findings raise important questions about the artists behind the oldest paintings. The researchers note that anatomically modern humans arrived in western Europe around 41,500 years ago and thus may well have made the ancient Spanish paintings. But 42,000 years ago the only humans in Europe were Neandertals. In a press teleconference, Zilhão asserted that any art there that turns out to be older than 42,000 years must necessarily be attributed to Neandertals. He and Pike suspect that the red disk and hand stencil at El Castillo might well be Neandertal paintings, considering that the uranium-thorium dating results are minimum estimates, though Zilhão cautions that they haven’t proved it. The researchers are currently looking at additional sites in western Europe to see if they can get dates older than 42,000 years ago. (Some scientists think modern humans arrived in Europe as early as 45,000 years ago—a claim that Zilhão says is unwarranted based on the available evidence.)

Cave painting wouldn’t be the first sign of Neandertal sophistication. In recent years scientists have unearthed quite a few signs that our oft-maligned cousins were aesthetes. Archaeological evidence indicates that they made jewelry from teeth and shells, festooned themselves with feathers, and painted their skin. If they were decorating their bodies with symbols, many experts say, they almost certainly had language. In fact, anatomically modern humans and Neandertals might have inherited their capacity for symbolic thinking from their common ancestor. If so, the roots of our symbolic culture go back half a million years.  As to why Neandertals, who lived in Europe for upwards of 250,000 years, appear not to have made art until the end of their reign, a number of experts argue that it was their encounters with incoming modern humans that stimulated innovation and self-expression—encounters that also spurred modern humans to greater creative heights.


Kate Wong About the Author: Kate Wong is an editor and writer at Scientific American covering paleontology, archaeology and life sciences. Follow on Twitter @katewong.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Sauce23 5:17 pm 06/14/2012

    Terrific report. I was in most of these Spanish caves, including El Castillo, two weeks ago. They are remarkable indeed, but I remain skeptical of a Neanderthal origin for symbolic art, given the dearth of evidence of such pure artwork by Neanderthals in findings outside of caves. Still, science is accomplished through discovery of new evidence that changes what we thought we knew.

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  2. 2. JamesDavis 5:25 pm 06/14/2012

    I think you are wrong; in fact, I know you are wrong. Those wrists are too slim for Neandertals (sic) (Neanderthals). Neandertals (sic) were a short, stocky, strong hairy animal like beings. And if Neandertals (sic) were on this planet for 250,000 years like you say, then why did they disappear in a very short period when modern humans came on the scene? In 250,000 years the Neandertals (sic) did not evolve to a superior intelligent being or advance beyond stone throwing…why not? In less than 100 years, modern human went from riding donkeys to landing a rover on Mars. How can you even consider Neandertals (sic) a human like being when their DNA are almost 2% different than ours? They should be classified more in the monkey family. And we, modern human, are not part of the monkey family because our DNA is too different than theirs.

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  3. 3. geojellyroll 6:01 pm 06/14/2012

    hmmm? as as geologist i could give a half dozen variables questioning the accuracy of this dating.

    As for: ‘In recent years scientists have unearthed quite a few signs that our oft-maligned cousins were aesthetes”

    That’s not a scientific statement. Best to keep political correctness out of science. Neandertals were a primate…a different primate species from humans. There’s nothing positive or negative (maligning) in describing another species. Art or no art does not make a species ‘better’.

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  4. 4. dicklipke 6:48 pm 06/14/2012

    Why couldn’t these hand prints be among the first known graffiti by Neanderthal children or teenagers just before entering puberty explaining the narrow wrists.
    These dyes were intended for facial and body ceremonies,a prelude to religious beliefs,until one the their young delinquents became what we know as a “piratical joker”. We may never know if they got away with their prank from their elders but we all thank them 48,000 years later.Early humans could have discovered these caves which eventually influenced their thinking and their development of art as we know it today.

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  5. 5. justyntoo 8:22 pm 06/14/2012

    i have thought that neanderthals were like -able – and we are like -cain – . it has been found that neanderthals buried their dead , long befor we did . maybe they tried peacefull co-existence first , and lost .

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  6. 6. Steve926 1:08 am 06/15/2012

    I tried making a hand stencil with charcoal. When I put my hand on a moist fence and blew the ash perpendicular to the post the relief was blurry. When I blew perpendicular and around the edges of my hand at an angle the image was clearer and seemed smaller in some spots.

    Give it a try.

    I tried with a dry post a few times and nothing took.

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  7. 7. oldvic 3:41 am 06/15/2012

    One thing is certain: there’s a lot of art being made by Neanderthals today.

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  8. 8. Ungolythe 5:34 am 06/15/2012

    James Davis, the authors of the study are only suggesting that there’s the possibility that the cave art is of Neanderthal origins yet somehow you absolutely know that they are wrong with your cursory examination of the posted picture. I’ll defer to the author’s expertise on this one and keep an open mind that the possibility does exist, albeit a small one in my opinion.

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  9. 9. JamesDavis 8:47 am 06/15/2012

    “Ungolythe”; most all first-graders keep an open mind and believes everything their teacher teaches without question. When you get older and your teacher teaches you something that sounds or looks like hogwash, you call them on it. Those hand prints also are too small to be Neanderthal, and Neanderthal teenagers did not goof around; if they did, it was within sight and close to their parents or the tribe would kill them because they would be endangering themselves and the tribe by bringing predators closer. Those hand prints are teenagers all right, but not Neanderthal teenagers, and anyone who cannot see that, cannot see beyond the tip of their nose.

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  10. 10. I2grok 10:12 am 06/15/2012

    Neanderthals were human. The majority of anthropologists I have googled agree.
    What amazes me are those who have posted, no names need be mentioned, who are so bigoted in their thought than humans are not “animals” that they make up stories to explain the creators of these paintings could not be anything but human.
    On a Scientific American Blog no less !!!

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  11. 11. jtdwyer 10:51 am 06/15/2012

    Too bad Neanderthals didn’t have 6 digits…

    I enjoyed this article and share the closing sentiments:
    “As to why Neanderthals, who lived in Europe for upwards of 250,000 years, appear not to have made art until the end of their reign, a number of experts argue that it was their encounters with incoming modern humans that stimulated innovation and self-expression-encounters that also spurred modern humans to greater creative heights.”

    Isn’t this the result hoped for from interaction with those so often imagined superior extraterrestrials?

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  12. 12. jtdwyer 10:55 am 06/15/2012

    BTW, I should have mentioned that, as I understand, the development of both art and language may correspond to interactions between modern humans and Neanderthals – perhaps even interbreeding (just for you, JamesDavis).

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  13. 13. dicklipke 11:02 am 06/15/2012

    Come on!It’s instinct.
    The young through out the animal kingdom,including humans, start goofing around soon after birth. You see it all the time.
    Like wise what’s not to think that these couldn’t have been young females fooling around only to be turned into an idea and used by adults. A prank that would become the first history book to be written on cave walls.

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  14. 14. JamesDavis 12:03 pm 06/15/2012

    “dicklipke”; you cannot relate the safety or raunchy stupid attitude of modern human teenagers with ancient Neanderthal teenagers. It is two totally different worlds. Neanderthals were here when there was dinos and other very large and dangerous predatory animals and there were lots of them. In 250,000 years, you are going to learn how to act without becoming food for a predator and goofing around away from your family will make you food for a predator. Neanderthals were not at the top of the food chain like we are now; they were fairly close to the bottom.

    “jtdwyer”, again you are proving what idiots look like that usually become food for predators. Modern humans cannot procreate (or interbreed, as you so smugly put it) with any other species on this planet. The chimp and modern human has a difference of 1.5%, or less, difference in our DNA, and we cannot procreate with chimps. Neanderthals and modern humans has almost 2% difference, or more, in our DNA, so how do you think modern humans and Neanderthals interbreed and modern humans and chimps cannot interbreed? Your parroting never fails to amaze me.

    “I2grok”; modern humans are not animals, we are mammals…learn the difference. Neanderthals are not human; they were primates like the modern gorillas…learn the difference.

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  15. 15. SteveinOG 12:36 pm 06/15/2012

    JamesDavis, please sir, dial it down a notch. Recent research has demonstrated that 3-4% of dna of many modern humans contains Neanderthal dna. We modern humans are apes, just as were the Neanderthals, both from a branch vastly removed from gorillas (descending together, from probable last-common-ancester homo erectus). You should read more about what is known of them (try Wikipedia). They certainly didn’t spend their time running from “dinos,” (slight 65-million-year confusion there).

    My opinion is that this re-dated art is almost certainly not Neanderthal. They inhabited Europe (on and off) for some 250,000 years and, if they were capable of this primative wall art, they would have left vastly more ancient examples than 40,000-year-old ones.

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  16. 16. limbic 5:55 pm 06/15/2012

    the claim that Neanderthals were creating the first symbolic markings in Europe, prior to modern humans, is further evidenced by the recent finding that contemporary modern humans that possess Neanderthal DNA are more likely to develop artistic skills (i.e., visual art and music abilities) than contemporary humans who do not possess Neanderthal DNA. Interestingly, the reverse effect was found for the likelihood a person becomes a scientist.

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  17. 17. gesimsek 6:17 pm 06/15/2012

    I am not sure who did these but I am sure that they are not art as we can not call totems as art objects.

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  18. 18. SteveinOG 6:43 pm 06/15/2012

    limbic: “…the recent finding that conemporary modern humans that possess Neanderthal DNA are more likely to develop artistic skills…”

    This sounds like total rubbish (and insulting to people without Neanderthal DNA).

    Please let us know what is the source of this “finding.”

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  19. 19. Adrian Morgan 9:42 pm 06/15/2012

    It’s always disturbing when an article and its commenters are in such sharp disagreement. No matter who’s right, it leaves the casual reader not knowing who to believe, and as likely as not to simply dismiss the article. However, it’s very helpful of a commenter to resolve that dilemma by completely discrediting themselves.

    Anyone who tries to score points by being pedantically dogmatic about the spelling of “neandert(h)al” (both spellings are acceptable: the valley in which the fossils were first discovered was spelt ‘neanderthal’ at the time but is spelt ‘neandertal’ in present-day German) is in no position to make huge scientific gaffes like “neanderthals coexisted with dinosaurs” or “modern humans share more DNA with chimps than with neanderthals” (both assertions would come as a shock to anyone who understands and accepts evolution; I don’t think I need to say anything about the first, and as for the second, a quick Google tells me that humans and neanderthals share 99.7% of our DNA).

    It seems very likely that JamesDavis is, in fact, a creationist, trying to sow doubt in the minds of readers for ideological purposes. I can’t think of any other plausible motive, and many of his statements are consistent with a creationist MO. None of this means the scientists are right, but the opinions of one JamesDavis cannot be counted among the reasons to doubt them.

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  20. 20. StanleyLippman 3:13 am 06/16/2012

    I thought the article was fine until the wild assertion at the end that the Neanderthals meeting homo sapiens led to a magical burst of creativity — most opinions regards their extinction as being due to that meeting, for one thing. If it were the Neanderthal than the argument for the paintings having developed to figurative over time would have to be refracted through the species change — claiming therefore that homo sapien not only took over the territory but their cave art as well. It seems like a just so story close to being tripe. There is the cultural explosion of around 40,000 that has always been associated with our subtree.

    It strikes me as undisciplined on the author’s behalf to toss in her in my opinion undefended and romantic notion of the two species sparking the creativity in each — but that is not supported by the fossil record not that I’m an expert but you can’t just throw that in at the end, like filling an unexpected space in a suitcase. She should stick to reporting. If she wants to speculate and has the courage to defend it, she should do it in a subsequent article and we can she if she understand what she is talking about.

    After all, the first thing you have to ask when reading one of these summary news pieces is how much does the author understand of the material? That last paragraph makes me think her plan is to ride some controversy into a best seller — here’s the bald truth: the neanderthal spark our creativity etc. etc. with this just being a stepping stone. If she feels that is unfair, that is exactly how I would characterize her last sentence. Mileage may vary :-)

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  21. 21. JamesDavis 9:04 am 06/16/2012

    For one thing, “Adrian Morgan”, I am not a creationist; second thing: 250,000 years ago up to about 10,000 years ago, dinos did walk this planet. The saber-toothed tiger and the wooly mammoth was part of the dinos. Why don’t you take the next ten years off and get caught up on your reading. Third thing; This is America, not Germany, and this magazine in an American scientific magazine and in America we spell it “Neanderthal”. If the author of this article is not American, then that is no excuse to butcher our language or spelling. Fourth thing; if you think that a 4% DNA difference between species can procreate, then you go down to Africa and see what you can do with the gorillas, and while you are there, why don’t you see how good they are with peaceful negotiations in allowing you to come into their tribe and procreate with them, and check their cave walls and look at all the beautiful paintings they have made on their wall. Fifth thing; Neanderthals did not go extinct; there are still some of them huddled on a small patch of land in Australia. If the government will allow you, which they will not, check their DNA and you may find an almost perfect match. The Neanderthals there evolved just like the Roman river crab did to accommodate their surroundings, and now humans can procreate with those Neanderthals, but could not when humans first came on the scene, but the Australian government will not allow you to do so because they want to preserve those Neanderthal’s DNA to the original as close as possible, and that may explain why the 3 to 4% of humans in the Northers Hemisphere or Europe contains Neanderthal DNA, and I even have my doubts about those percentages.

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  22. 22. E-boy 1:53 pm 06/16/2012

    To JamesDavis,

    You seem to think you know an awful lot about Neanderthal behavior. Real experts fully acknowledge they know a lot less than you do, so I’m wondering where you get off making even more authoritative pronouncements than the ones you’re criticizing?

    P.S. Couldn’t you just go troll the creationist web sites?

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  23. 23. janine robidoux 9:12 pm 06/16/2012

    Wow! I have a degree in biology but I would like to think the researchers know more than I do. Maybe if I had a PhD in the same topic and was doing research myself I might question the research but it’s good to know when to shut up and be humble.

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  24. 24. tonylinde 7:39 am 06/17/2012

    Someone should give JamesDavis his own show: funniest stuff I’ve read in ages.

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  25. 25. JamesDavis 8:34 am 06/17/2012

    “E-Boy”, or maybe it’s “Momma’s Boy”, you sheep and parrots go ahead and make your funny quips and asinine remarks. It just shows how ignorant and stupid you really are. There are scientists in this field who are a lot smarter and much more advanced than the ones who write for this blog and you will never see or read their articles or read their research on this blog, because that is not this blogs purpose. The authors who write for this blog tones the article down and give basic information on the research so idiots and trolls like you can understand it, but you cannot even understand basic information, can you, and you don’t want to even look beyond the tip of your smug low IQ nose at anything because you are afraid that your stupidity on the subject will make you look like an idiot, so you hound anyone who may have a little more understanding of a subject than you? You are an idiot!

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  26. 26. tonylinde 9:42 am 06/17/2012

    Gotta keep him going…

    “The saber-toothed tiger and the wooly mammoth was part of the dinos.” No, both are mammals, not dinosaurs. Though, if you accept that birds are evolved from dinosaurs then I guess Neandertals coexisted with dinosaurs but, then, so do we.

    “this magazine in an American scientific magazine and in America we spell it “Neanderthal”” Nope. Check the rest of the entries. Seems the SciAm standard is for ‘t’ rather than ‘th’: both are acceptable.

    “Neanderthals and modern humans has almost 2% difference, or more, in our DNA” & “a 4% DNA difference between species”: wrong again, both times. The Neandertal genome is 99.5-99.9% the same as homo sapiens. Non-african humans seem to have 1-4% of the Neandertal genome in them and guess how we likely got it – yep, interbreeding is the likeliest answer.

    “Neanderthals did not go extinct; there are still some of them huddled on a small patch of land in Australia”: best one yet :) Absolute bollocks! I’m Australian, tell me where to go look.

    “modern humans are not animals, we are mammals”: LOL. Look up the definition of mammal, it is a type of animal!

    Come on, sport. Let’s have some more of your wisdom.

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  27. 27. SteveinOG 9:24 pm 06/17/2012

    Sir, JamesDavis, please do read more about Neanderthals and also paleoanthorpology. Wikipedia is a totally excellent souce, contributed to and edited world-wide by honest people who can demonstrate themselves experts. Check the links. The whole field is much more well documented, and full of very intelligent speculation, than you might think. There’s very much fascinating stuff regarding our early ancestors to think about and enjoy.

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  28. 28. Aiaiaias 9:52 am 06/18/2012

    It’s an interesting article and a nice thought, though I don’t really agree with the final paragraph. But hey, there will always be a difference of opinions on subjects like this, right? The comments section is a perfect example of this.

    I am also currently under the impression that JamesDavis is Marcellin Boule back from the dead.

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  29. 29. BGriffin 11:49 am 06/19/2012

    TonyLinde is onto something:

    JamesDavis definitely deserves his own show. It could be called ‘Living with Dunning-Kruger’.

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  30. 30. Laird Wilcox 9:54 pm 06/20/2012

    There’s a real danger of wishful or hopeful thinking in this issue. It looks to me that the evidence does not necessarily lead to some of the conclusions being advanced here.

    It might be nice is Neanderthals were advanced and as capable as their distant relatives but there’s really not much evidence that they were. Dare we say that they were inferior and ultimately incompetent? But what does inferior mean, and does it even matter if they were happy and enjoyed cave painting among their arts and crafts.

    They may have led joyous and placid lives, their pastoral existence interrupted only by climate change and the appearance of bigots and imperialists who had the temerity to be smarter and more capable of surviving, an offense to everyone who believes that all should win and there should be no losers. If only they had cooperated, shared and loved each other! Some of us would even be Neanderthals today. Bummer.

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  31. 31. WizeHowl 10:10 am 06/23/2012

    JamesDAvis, I have read a lot of your crap in the past, but you have surely out done your self here, firstly you claim NOT to be a creationist, hmm, strange how in the past you carry on about your god, but I think the best of your rubbish is the one about “Neanderthals did not go extinct; there are still some of them huddled on a small patch of land in Australia. If the government will allow you, which they will not, check their DNA and you may find an almost perfect match.” – Firstly as an Australian I find that a bloody insult! Secondly as a well traveled Australian I can tell you the only people living in pockets in Australia are Aborigines, and I think they too would be outraged by your pathetic comments. Secondly as for DNA you might like to check with the National Geographic’s DNA research program, of which I took part, from which you can look up where everyone came from.

    Maybe if you spent some time doing some research instead of making a such a bloody fool of yourself you might learn something.

    And Humans are Mammals, which of course are animals, and so are Saber Tooth Cats,(not Tigers) and Woolly Mammoths, and no they are not related to do the Dino’s, they were wiped out about 64.5 million years BEFORE these creatures.

    So take your meds, and look at which website your on, and change it back to your PRO creationism crap and go away. All you ever do on here is sprout rubbish, that you obviously have no knowledge about. Don’t bother responding to me, because I wont be reading any of your bull s..t!

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  32. 32. IndyCA35 5:21 pm 02/19/2013

    Those who question why, if the Neanderthals lived for 250,000 years, they only began doing art 40,000 years ago, should ask the same question about Homo Sapiens. Homo sapiens lived for about 200,000 years though not in Europe.

    Perhaps art took off with Homo sapiens because it was part of their religion. Perhaps the Neanderthals played around with it a little, but saw no reason to make ever more realistic paintings. It might even have become taboo for them, as are “graven images” for some religions today.

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  33. 33. 13inches 3:17 am 03/14/2013

    JamesDavis: You are hilarious. I love reading all your ridiculous posts. Please keep posting and making things up as you go – most people here get a chuckle from your lunacy.

    Humans ARE animals. Humans ARE primates. Humans ARE smart, hairless APES. If you disagree with any of these FACTS, then YOU are the one who needs to go ‘read a book.’

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  34. 34. Silkysmom 1:21 pm 03/14/2013

    I have 1.5% Neanderthal DNA and I think that is pretty cool!

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  35. 35. ChipsterXX 9:04 pm 03/14/2013

    @JamesDavis: As fervently as you seem to distance yourself from any connection whatsoever from Neandertals (yes, we know by now that in Germany they had a spelling reform in 1901 and no longer spell them “Neanderthals”!) and, more fervently even, that you are NOT an animal, what springs to mind immediately upon reading your posts is that (apart from being a closet creationist) you seem to have a fear of being associated with evolutionists that reminds one of the incoherent rants (closet) homosexuals are wont to unleash on openly gay people. You have to be one to know one, right, JamesDavis? In your case, your thousandth great-grandfather (or -mother) was very probably a Neandertal! (Without the “h”.) Ever tested your genome?

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  36. 36. ChipsterXX 9:21 pm 03/14/2013

    It seems safe to say that we can throw JamesDavis out of this dicussion and anyone like him. He’s not even worth the consideration we are used to giving to the baby in the bathwater. (Plus, he’d be offended if we called him a baby.) Back to work — which, in this context, is always scientific. Rigorous, honest, self-critical — but unyielding when it comes to facts and logic.

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  37. 37. bongobimbo 10:10 pm 03/14/2013

    Ignore cranks like James Davis, who obviously never learned that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Replies only swell their narcissist egos and encourage more spewing of irrationalities. I do like the suggestion that his stuff could be collected for a book of “goofy pseudo-science” humor. I was laughing out loud!! Maybe he really is a wannabe comedian and is trying out the audience–hope so.

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  38. 38. way2ec 3:21 am 01/18/2014

    No, in the end we need everybody contributing to these commentaries, the blogosphere is our (international) town hall, or maybe just a local bar. The likes of James Davis provides the impetus for so many others to dust off the fact files, fire back with logic and wit, and reveals the fact that NONE of us knows for sure. We will never know the nature of the Neanderthals. Who among us can claim to know the nature of “modern humans” let alone those of 40,000 years ago? The history of “race” relations should be enough to make “interbreeding” a much more delicate subject. Will we have to suffer terminology like interspecies halfbreeds? And to think that I was taught that the definition of species is that they produce fertile offspring, makes me a smart ass not a smart mule, right? Oh what the hay, how about a hinny? Male donkey + female horse, female donkey + male horse…no really folks… inquiring minds want to know… Neanderthal males with human females (women) or human males (men) with Neanderthal females…? are we prepared to grant the Neanderthals the status of being men and women? Rape or intermarriage? At least we know that the offspring were cared for but not their status. And now news of yet another genetic line, the Denisovans, the Creationists must be having fits, and our cave art “debate” gets a new player…but at least Adam and Eve’s kids weren’t stuck in a genetic bottleneck… oops… 6000 years ago we don’t have anymore Neanderthals OR Denisovans although J. Davis’ reference to dinos makes for a yabba dabba do time even that far back. The name calling among the commentators (never a good sign) also reveals much about the authors… and we need only look at the “debates” about when and how the Americas were settled to see science and scientists “in action” complete with denigration of the opponents’ science and evidence.

    I know, I digress. Excellent article, glad to see the timelines get retested, and our “stereotypes” about Neanderthals AND “modern humans” (i.e. us) get challenged. May the art debates rage (art, symbolic and abstract thinking, graffiti, just bored and blowing some body paint on the wall) to… we were created in the image of God so does that leave Neanderthals in or out? To hopefully smack ourselves upside the head again… by choosing to call someone a mule or a hinny you are calling either their mother or their father an ass… so be very careful Mr. James Davis when starting off and finishing up with stupid, you may end up either a dumbass or a smartass… and neither plays out well on a SciAm blog. I should know.

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  39. 39. IvanHramov 12:20 am 09/11/2014

    Reading these comments, I began to lose all hope in the common sense and relative intellect of so-called “modern humans” – thankfully, one tonylinde piped up with an articulate, well-informed comment and saved the day. JamesDavis was a piece of work here two years ago, I surmise. His comments were some of the most flagrantly ignorant I’ve ever read on a site dedicated to scientific research. I agree with all who suspect he is a creationist; the “dino” comment he made was probably the dead giveaway. I won’t rehash the corrections to JamesDavis’ blather other posters already noted, except to add that, sorry, JamesDavis, Neanderthals are classified as humans and do, in fact, share nearly 100% common DNA. Chimps, on the other hand, share approximately 94%. I also would like to point out that there is no consensus nor any scientific definition or consistent parameters for the following: modern human, anatomically modern human, homo sapiens sapiens. The theory that one or two waves of some separate sub-species spontaneously exited en masse from one specific climate and environment in favor of other starkly disparate climates and environments, some of which were inhospitable for a species that allegedly solely evolved in a relatively warmer, more hospitable sub Saharan Africa, and either out-competed or replaced with limited interbreeding archaic humans who had survived and thrived in their local environments for between hundreds of thousands up to 2 million years, is currently a shaky, poorly supported theory that needs to be seriously re-examined without the sociopolitical agenda that spawned it in the first place. Why, for example, do we consistently see morphological continuity between archaic and modern day populations that were supposedly replaced by a distinctly new and different species? The genetic “proof” (what should instead be referred to as evidence) for Out of Africa is subject to multiple interpretations; the one selected by Wilson, Cann, Stoneking to suggest that their theory “might” or “probably” is accurate is not even the most likely interpretation. It has become a Western tragedy that science has become so warped by and beholden to either those with a social and/or political agenda or corporate interests. The last couple generations of students have been so hopelessly misinformed. I have hope the “story” spread with selfish, misguided, arrogant intentions by the aforementioned and the hopeless Chris Stringer, just to name a few, will be revealed for the fairy tale it is in the not so distant future.

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