Cave Paintings Among the Oldest in Europe
A team of scientists from Spain and France have discovered that a series of wall paintings in the Altxerri cave system in northern Spain date back to around 39,000 BC, making them among the earliest known cave paintings produced by humans in Europe.
The Altxerri caves, located in the province of Gipuzkoa, were first discovered in 1956 and extensive investigations on the figures and markings in the caves began in the early 1960s, revealing an incredible array of wall paintings depicting animals, human scenes and geometric shapes and symbols.
Evidence suggests that the cave art was produced by the Aurignacian culture, which existed during the Upper Palaeolithic period (50,000 to 10,000 years ago) in Europe and southwest Asia. The exceptional display of art combined with the age of the site led to the Altxerri caves being listed with UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
"Archaeological, geological and stylistic evidence, together with radiometric dates, suggest an Aurignacian chronology for this art," reported the investigators. "The ensemble in Altxerri B can therefore be added to the small but growing number of sites dated in this period, corroborating the hypothesis of more complex and varied figurative art than had been supposed in the early Upper Palaeolithic."
The dating relates specifically to the upper gallery of the cave, Altxerri B, in which the paintings appear to have been done independently of other paintings in the cave system which had already been dated to range between 29,000 and 35,000 BC.
While science has been able to determine an approximate age range for the cave art, what is still unknown is which particular hominid species created it – Neanderthals or modern humans. Previous perspectives would have discounted the possibility of Neanderthals as it was once believed that they were too ‘primitive’. However, more recent evidence has revealed that they were more advanced than initially realised.