A joint study between the University of Southampton, Durham University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has discovered the first evidence of sophisticated artwork created by Neanderthals more than 60,000 years ago.
Researchers concentrated their efforts on the study of cave paintings in Spain dating at least 20,000 years before Homo Sapiens or modern humans arrived in Europe. The paintings, featuring intricate depictions of animals, plant life and, crucially, dotted and geometric patterns, signifying that Neanderthals were capable of higher, symbolic levels of thought similar to Homo Sapiens.
Neanderthals were once widely dispersed across Europe and Asia but were driven to extinction during the last Ice Age, beginning around the time of the arrival of modern humans in Europe 40,000 years ago. While often considered to have been less intelligent than their surviving cousins, they displayed evidence of complex social structures and even religious beliefs and practices, burying their dead in ritual poses and decorating them with flowers.
Modern Europeans are also known to possess the highest proportion of Neanderthal DNA due to limited degrees on interbreeding between them and early Homo Sapiens.