Wednesday January 16, 2019
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Primitive Art: Neanderthals Were Europe’s First Painters

Neanderthals died out about 40,000 years ago, soon after direct ancestors arrived in Europe

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Neanderthal paintings can be seen in a cave in Pasiega, Spain in this photo obtained Feb. 22, 2018. University of Southampton. VOA

The world’s oldest known cave paintings were made by Neanderthals, not modern humans, suggesting our extinct cousins were far from being uncultured brutes.

A high-tech analysis of cave art at three Spanish sites, published on Thursday, dates the paintings to at least 64,800 years ago, or 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa.

That makes the cave art much older than previously thought and provides the strongest evidence yet that Neanderthals had the cognitive capacity to understand symbolic representation, a central pillar of human culture.

ALSO READ: French Scientists discover World’s oldest structure built by Neanderthals about 170,000 years ago

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While some archaeologists already viewed Neanderthals as more sophisticated than their commonplace caricature, the evidence until now has been inconclusive. Pixabay

“What we’ve got here is a smoking gun that really overturns the notion that Neanderthals were knuckle-dragging cavemen,” said Alistair Pike, professor of archaeological sciences at the University of Southampton, who co-led the study.

“Painting is something that has always been seen as a very human activity, so if Neanderthals are doing it they are being just like us,” he told Reuters.

With the data from the three Spanish cave sites described in the journal Science, Pike and colleagues believe they finally have rock-solid proof.

The early cave art at La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales includes lines, dots, discs and hand stencils — and creating them would have involved specific skills, such as mixing pigments and selecting appropriate display locations.

The Neanderthals living in the same land that would one day give birth to Diego Velazquez and Pablo Picasso also needed the intellectual ability to think symbolically, like modern humans.

Scientists used a precise dating system based on the radioactive decay of uranium isotopes into thorium to assess the age of the paintings. This involved scraping a few milligrams of calcium carbonate deposit from the paintings for analysis.

A second related study published in Science Advances found that dyed and decorated marine shells from a different Spanish cave also dated back to pre-human times.

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Taken together, the researchers said their work suggested that Neanderthals were “cognitively indistinguishable” from early modern humans. Pixabay

ALSO READ: How About Some Tasty Woolly Rhinoceros for Dinner?

Joao Zilhao of the University of Barcelona said the new findings meant the search for the origins of human cognition needed to go back to the common ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans more than 500,000 years ago.

Neanderthals died out about 40,000 years ago, soon after direct ancestors arrived in Europe. It is unclear what killed them off, although theories include an inability to adapt to climate change and increased competition from modern humans.

If they were still alive today, Pike believes they could well have gone on developing complex art and technology.

“If they had been given the time, the resources and the population, then they might have ended up in some version of the world we live in today.” (VOA)

Next Story

Reinvent House Painting Using Christmas Trees

Fresh trees and older, abandoned Christmas trees can both be used, according to the researchers.

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The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is lit up during a ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 6, 2016. VOA

The use of a Christmas tree could soon go beyond the festive period as researchers have found that useful products such as paint and food sweeteners can be made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles used in the tree.

“The tree that decorated your house over the festive period could be turned into paint to decorate your house once again,” said researcher Cynthia Kartey from the University of Sheffield in Britain.

Christmas trees have hundreds of thousands of pine needles which take a long time to decompose compared to other tree leaves. When they rot, they emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases which then contribute to the carbon footprint.

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The process is sustainable and creates zero waste Pixabay

The major component (up to 85 per cent) of pine needles is a complex polymer known as lignocellulose. The complexity of this polymer makes using pine needles as a product for biomass energy unattractive and useless to most industrial processes.

“My research has been focused on the breakdown of this complex structure into simple, high-valued industrial chemical feedstocks such as sugars and phenolics, which are used in products like household cleaners and mouthwash,” said Cynthia.

The new research showed that with the aid of heat and solvents such as glycerol, which is cheap and environmentally friendly, the chemical structure of pine needles can be broken down into a liquid product (bio-oil) and a solid by-product (bio-char).

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These chemicals are used in many industries. Pixabay

The bio-oil typically contains glucose, acetic acid and phenol. These chemicals are used in many industries — glucose in the production of sweeteners for food, acetic acid for making paint, adhesives and even vinegar.

The process is sustainable and creates zero waste as the solid by-product can be useful too in other industrial chemical processes, the University of Sheffield said in a statement on Thursday.

Also Read: Paint, Varnish Exposure may Increase Risk of Multiple Sclerosis

Fresh trees and older, abandoned Christmas trees can both be used, according to the researchers. (IANS)