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Neanderthal culture: Old masters

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Valerie
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« on: May 18, 2013, 08:22:31 pm »

Neanderthal culture: Old masters

The earliest known cave paintings fuel arguments about whether Neanderthals were the mental equals of modern humans.




    Tim Appenzeller

15 May 2013

Spots and stencils in El Castillo cave, Spain — one at least 40,800 years old — might be the handiwork of Neanderthals.

PEDRO SAURA
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In a damp Spanish cave, Alistair Pike applies a small grinder to the world's oldest known paintings. Every few minutes, the dentist-drill sound stops and Pike, an archaeologist from the University of Southampton, UK, stands aside so that a party of tourists can admire the simple artwork — hazy red disks, stencilled handprints, the outlines of bison — daubed on the cave wall tens of thousands of years ago. He hopes that the visitors won't notice the small scuff marks he has left.

In fact, Pike's grinder — and the scalpel that he wields to scrape off tiny samples — is doing no harm to the actual paintings, and he is working with the full approval of the Spanish authorities. Pike is after the crust of calcite that has built up over the millennia from groundwater dripping down the wall. The white flecks that he dislodges hold a smattering of uranium atoms, whose decay acts as a radioactive clock. A clock that has been ticking ever since the calcite formed on top of the art.


http://www.nature.com/news/neanderthal-culture-old-masters-1.12974
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