Opinion

Earliest Known Paintings Discovered in Spain

These cave paintings of seals are believed to be at least 42,000 years old, making them the oldest dated paintings known to man. (photo by the Fundación Cueva de Nerja, via diariocordoba.com)

Our knowledge of art continues to expand by leaps and bounds. While we once believed that art was the exclusive domain of the more evolved Homo Sapiens Sapiens but the latest find, according to archaeological project leader José Luis Sanchidrián, suggests that the earliest known painting was created by Homo Neanderthalensis. So, maybe you should think twice before calling someone a Neanderthal.

Gizmodo spotted the news on Spanish-language sites:

According to the latest dating of the charcoal found next to the paintings — used either to make the paintings or illuminate them — these seals may have been made more than 42,300 years ago. In fact, they may be as old as 43,500 years.

There have been other art objects, particularly sculptures like the Venus of Hohle Fels (35,000-40,000 yrs old), that come close in date but none as old as this.

These newly discovered paintings push the origins of painting back 10,000 years. Previously the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, which was featured in Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” was the earliest known work.

This latest fact is sure to frustrate archaeologists going forward as they wade into the “is it art” debate. Picture it:

Older Archaeologist: “Do you think this clutter of skeletons was the burial chamber of an Aurignacian settlement?”

Younger Archaeologist: “Have you considered it could be an art colony or a gallery space?”

Older Archaeologist: ”What?”

Younger Archaeologist: “Yeah, like the remains of some durational performance piece. Just because they’re Neanderthals doesn’t mean they’re not artistic.”

Or maybe not, though this guy does look like an artist.

UPDATE: One of our Facebook commenters pointed out another object in the same date range (but still not as old) as these newly discovered paintings is the Divje Babe flute. The “instrument” consists of holes carved in a cave bear femur, which is believed to be made by Neanderthals and is on display at the National Museum of Slovenia (Narodni Muzej Slovenije) in Ljubljana.

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