Earliest cave art belonged to Neanderthals, not humans: Study

This color enhanced image provided by Hipolito Collado Giraldo in February 2018 shows three hand stencils in the Maltravieso Cave in Cáceres, Spain. (AP)
Updated 24 February 2018

Earliest cave art belonged to Neanderthals, not humans: Study

MIAMI: The world’s oldest known cave art was crafted by Neanderthals more than 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe, showing that our extinct cousins were capable of symbolic thinking just like us, international researchers said Thursday.
The report in the journal Science is based on new technology that reveals the most accurate age yet of ancient cave paintings at three different archaeological sites in Spain.
“This is an incredibly exciting discovery which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed,” said co-lead author Chris Standish, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton.
“Our results show that the paintings we dated are, by far, the oldest known cave art in the world.”
Since they were created some 64,000 years ago — at least 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa — “they must have been painted by Neanderthals,” he added.
Using mainly red pigments and sometimes black, groups of animals, hand stencils, engravings, dots, discs and geometric designs are depicted in the cave paintings at La Pasiega in the northeast, Maltravieso in the west and Ardales in the south of Spain.
These symbolic renderings point to an intelligence that was previously thought to be uniquely the realm of modern humans.
“The emergence of symbolic material culture represents a fundamental threshold in the evolution of humankind,” said co-lead author Dirk Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
“It is one of the main pillars of what makes us human.”
Plenty of evidence already exists to debunk the myth that Neanderthals were knuckle-dragging brutes, and instead were capable of decorative impulses and rituals, like burying their dead.
But cave paintings were one of the last bastions that appeared to differentiate anatomically modern humans from Neanderthals, who died out some 35,000 years ago.
“Recent years have seen studies that show Neanderthals made extensive use of ornamental objects, potentially built structures, and on the whole, appear far more capable of symbolic cognitive processes than has historically been regarded,” Adam Van Arsdale, associate professor of anthropology at Wellesley College, told AFP.
“These results suggest that cave painting, also, fails to distinguish Neanderthals and modern humans,” said Van Arsdale, who was not involved in the study.
He said the findings reflect “some impressive technical developments in dating techniques in cave contexts, issues that have always posed a challenge for our understanding the timing of key events in human evolution.”
He added: “As a new and technically challenging method, it will be good to see these results replicated by others.”
Until now, figuring out the age of cave drawings without destroying them has been difficult.
The new approach is based on obtaining a minimum age for cave art “using uranium-thorium (U-Th) dating of carbonate crusts overlying the pigments,” explained Hoffman.
The technique of U-Th dating is based on the radioactive decay of uranium isotopes into thorium.
It can determine the age of calcium carbonate formations going back as far as 500,000 years, much further than the widely used radiocarbon method, said the report.
More than 60 tiny samples, less than 10mm each, were analyzed from the three caves.
A second study, also published this week by Hoffmann and colleagues, determined the age of an archaeological deposit located at the Cueva de los Aviones, a sea cave in southeast Spain.
“This cave contained perforated sea shells, red and yellow colorants and shell containers including complex mixes of pigments,” said the report.
U-Th dating found the flowstone covering the deposit to about 115,000 years, older than similar finds in south and north Africa associated with Homo sapiens.
The dating shows they came from a time when Neanderthals lived in western Europe.
“According to our new data Neanderthals and modern humans shared symbolic thinking and must have been cognitively indistinguishable,” said Joao Zilhao, a researcher from the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona who was involved in both studies.
Future studies could reveal many more caves where art was likely done by Neanderthals, said study co-author Paul Pettitt of Durham University.
“We have examples in three caves 700km apart, and evidence that it was a long-lived tradition. It is quite possible that similar cave art in other caves in Western Europe is of Neanderthal origin as well,” he said.
“Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in meaningful places. The art is not a one-off accident.”


Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on January 24, 2019 shows men with henna-dyed beards in Dhaka on December 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

  • It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard

DHAKA, BANGLADESH: From shades of startling red to hues of vivid tangerine, brightly colored beards have become a fashion statement on the streets of Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
Facial hair of sunset tones is now the go-to look for older men wanting to take off the years, with an array of henna options available to the style-conscious.
“I have been using it on my hair for the last two months. I like it,” says Mahbubul Bashar, in his 50s, whose smile reflected his joy at his new look.
Abul Mia, a 60-year-old porter at a local vegetable market, agrees that the vibrant coloring can be transformative.
“I love it. My family says I look a lot younger and handsome,” he adds.
While henna has been used widely in the country for decades, it has reached new heights of popularity. It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard.
Orange hair — whether it’s beards, moustaches or on heads — is everywhere, thanks to the popularity of the colored dye produced by the flowering henna plant.
“Putting henna on has become a fashion choice in recent years for elder men,” confirms Didarul Dipu, head fashion journalist at Canvas magazine.
“The powder is easily found in neighborhood stores and easy to put on,” he adds.
But the quest for youth is not the only reason why more and more Dhaka barbers are adding beard and hair coloring to their services.
Top imams also increasingly use henna powder color in what experts say is a move to prove their Muslim credentials as some religious texts say the prophet Mohammed dyed his hair.
In Bangladesh most of the population of 168 million is Muslim.
“I heard from clerics that the prophet Mohammed used henna on his beard. I am just following,” says Dhaka resident Abu Taher.

Henna has long been a tradition at South Asian weddings. Brides and grooms use henna paste to trace intricate patterns on their hands for wedding parties.
It has also long been used in Muslim communities in Asia and the Middle East for beards.
Previously, aficionados created the dye by crushing henna leaves to form a paste. It was messy and time-consuming but modern henna powder is far more user-friendly.
Taher, who goes by one name, believes the dye has given his beard added vigour.
“Look at this growth. Isn’t it strong?” he exclaims pointing to his chin.
“The powder turns the grey hair red but does not change the remaining black hair,” he explains.
Some believe henna powder has health benefits and, as it is natural rather than created using man-made chemicals like some dyes, does not cause any medical issues.
The new trend has also boosted barbers’ fortunes — more men feel compelled to dye their hair and to do it more often at the salons.
“In the past we hardly would get any customers for this,” recalls Shuvo Das, who works at the Mahin Hairdressers in Dhaka’s Shaheenbagh neighborhood.
“But now there are clients who come every week to get their beard dyed,” he says.
“It takes about 40 minutes to make the beard reddish and shiny. It is also cheap. A pack cost only 15 taka (four US cents),” Das explains as he massages the dye mixture — imported from India — into a customer’s beard.
According to Dhaka University sociology professor Monirul Islam Khan, the growing number of henna beards “is a sign of increasing Muslim fervor in Bangladeshi society.”
But, he adds, even those who are not strict followers do it.
He explains: “They want to look younger. Even the women are getting fond of it as it makes their hair glitter.”