Humans Have Been Making Art for a Lot Longer Than We Thought

80beatsBy Sophie BushwickJun 21, 2012 5:30 PM


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One of the prints in El Castillo Cave's Panel of Hands was created more than 37,300 years ago.

A new study has revealed

 that Spain's El Castillo Cave contains the oldest known cave paintings in Europe, with a handprint dating back 37,300 years and a red circle that was daubed onto the wall at least 40,600 years ago. Instead of testing the paint's age, a team of British and Spanish researchers measured the age of the stone that had formed around the drawings. In a cave, mineral-rich water drips over the walls, eventually depositing stalactites, stalagmites, and the sheet-like formations called flowstone. Some prehistoric artists had painted over flowstone made out of the mineral calcite, and then water flowed over the paint and deposited even more calcite, leaving the drawings sandwiched between mineral layers. The researchers used uranium-thorium dating

 to accurately determine the age of the mineral layers and therefore the window when the art itself was created; unlike the similar, more conventional carbon-14 method, uranium-thorium dating gives accurate results without damaging the subject.

Another set of paintings in El Castillo Cave, called Corredor de los Puntos. A red disk like the ones shown here was daubed on the cave wall over 40,600 years ago.

Because some of the paintings date back to the time when early modern humans were only beginning to settle the area, the researchers speculated that they may actually have been created by Neanderthals, which would make this the first known Neanderthal art. Whether the drawings were made by modern humans or Neanderthals, they do show that art history stretches back much farther than we previously realized. [via Wired Science

] Images courtesy of Pedro Saura / Science

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