Although originally discovered in the 1870’s, El Castillo Cave is back in the news thanks to a new process of uranium-dating, an alternative to carbon-dating. This technology has revealed that the cave paintings are 15,000 years older than previously estimated; it is now believed that the primitive dots and handprints are around 40,800 years old. The previous record-holder was the Chauvet Cave in France, which is between 32,000 and 37,000 years old.
This new dating raises the possibility of authorship by Neanderthals, who dominated the area before homo sapiens. Modern man began to move into the Europe from Africa around 42,000 years ago, so they were likely co-existing with Neanderthals at the date of this painting. Recent evidence also suggests that Neanderthals were more artistically inclined than previously believed archaeologists have discovered painted and perforated shells, suggesting self-ornamentation and body painting.
Cave paintings are “one of the most exquisite examples of human symbolic behavior,” said study co-author Joao Zilhao, an anthropologist at the University of Barcelona. “And that, that’s what makes us human.”