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A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Neanderthals May Have Been Capable of Symbolic Thought

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Neanderthal cave artBORDEAUX, FRANCE—Science News reports that cave art in Spain has been tentatively dated to at least 64,800 years ago through analysis of uranium in the mineral deposits covering the painted areas. Archaeologist Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux and his colleagues say the dates suggests the red horizontal and vertical lines and hand stencils were created by Neanderthals some 20,000 years before the arrival of modern humans in Europe. Possible jewelry made from eagle claws found in Croatia and pigment-stained seashells pierced with holes found in Spain have also been attributed to Neanderthals. “Neanderthal social life was as complex as that of [contemporaneous] humans in Africa,” said João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona. The scientists suggest the capacity for symbolic thinking could therefore have developed in a common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans some 500,000 years ago. For more on Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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