Symbolic thinking- it’s how we are capable of communicating through drawings and written language. And new evidence suggests that the neanderthals were capable of it as well as early humans.
Neanderthals have been recorded to inhabit Europe at least 120,000 years ago. This data is taken from seashells found in a coastal cave in Spain, they were drilled at the top and possibly used as necklace ornaments. According to a study on hand paintings Spanish caves, the paintings have been around for over 60,000 years. That’s 20,000 years before Homo Sapiens have been hypothesized to have appeared in Europe. This suggests that Neanderthals, being there for generations before humans, taught the humans how to paint. At least, that’s the idea that archaeologist Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux in France had.
“Neandertal social life was as complex as that of [contemporaneous] humans in Africa,” says archaeologist João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona.
Evidence that the Neanderthals were capable of symbolic thinking has been few and far between. In this particular cave though, carbon dating of the rock used in each painting suggests a Neanderthalic tradition of painting spanning 25,000 years. Although this data is generally accepted by archaeologists, it’s taken with a grain of salt. Since carbon dating uses uranium deposits in the minerals of the artifacts, external contamination is common. Anything could throw off the dating process, conditions in the cave, materials used in the cave paintings and numerous other factors. This is why many say that it is nearly impossible to get an accurate dating.
However, if the data is confirmed, the ancient past between our ancestors and Neanderthals is much closer than we thought.