Using uranium-thorium dating, paleoanthropologist were able to discover new cave art…and it’s possibly from Neanderthals.
Put yourself in the distant past, 65,000 years ago, and imagine entering a cave in Spain. Keep in mind this was the era of megafauna, animals like saber-toothed cats and cave hyenas and cave bears that were 50 percent larger than modern grizzlies. “[Humans] would’ve used small torches and their field of view would’ve been so small, and the light would’ve been flickering,” says archaeologist Chris Standish, of the University of Southampton. “You have all these fantastic speleothems [formations like stalactites] in the cave and sometimes calcite crystals that sparkle. So it must’ve been quite amazing, but also very daunting.”
Yet humans entered the caves again and again, armed with their flickering torches and red or black pigments, all so they could leave their mark on the walls. For decades, these abstract artistic renderings have been a meager glimpse of life in the Ice Age, and evidence of the cognitive abilities of our ancient ancestors. Or so we thought.