11 February 2012


Ancient paintings of seals from the Caves of Nerja, Spain. Via.
New research suggests that six seals painted on the walls of the Caves of Nerja in M├ílaga, Spain, are more than 42,000 years old. 

Which not only makes them the oldest human art on record, it also infers they were painted by Neanderthals (Home sapiens neanderthalensis)—who lived in the area at that time and ate seals. 

The Homo sapiens sapiens who followed and also painted on cave walls left no images of seals. Their oldest known art is in the 30,000-year-old cave at Chauvet, France.

Map modified from Wikimedia Commons.
The area around Nerja Cave at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula is believed to be last place inhabited by Neanderthals before they were overrun or interbred into obscurity by Homo sapiens sapiens about 37,000 years ago. 

Neanderthals have long been thought incapable of creating artistic works. 
(*Sigh* Why?)

But the provenance of recently-discovered decorated stone and shell objects is now attributed to Neanderthals.

Mediterranean monk seal in cave. Credit: Giovanni Dall'Orto via Wikimedia Commons.
What's interesting to me is that the seals in the painting would have been Mediterranean monk seals—now one of the rarest pinnipeds on Earth.

Monk seals are believed to have shifted in modern times from beach-dwelling seals to cave-dwellers in order to escape human encroachment.

But maybe—hunted by Neanderthals—they spent time in caves 42,000 years ago too? Could the Neanderthal art have been more biologically accurate than Homo sapiens sapiens' fanciful horses at Chauvet? 

I wrote more about monk seals in an earlier post here.

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