Neanderthals can't get a break. With their stocky bodies, backward-sloping foreheads, and wide faces, they are often looked at by us Homo sapiens (a.k.a. modern humans) as one thing: not very smart. To the average person, they are the cavemen of prehistory that eventually went extinct because the superior human species came along and out-competed them.
Not only is this version of history unfair (and, well, super biased)...it's also wrong.
For years, scientists studying Neanderthals have said that these relatives (who shared 99.7% of our DNA, by the way) were far more complex than many of us think. They had weapons, tools, clothing, ornaments, and built shelters. In some cases — such as in making tools from bone — they broke ground well before H. sapiens did.
Another one of those groundbreaking cases? Art.
DO NOT TOUCH THE ART (It's being dated!)
New discoveries in three Spanish caves have revealed prehistoric wall paintings. They feature animals, shapes, dots, and stencils of hands. By examining the calcium deposits that have grown over the paintings, scientists have been able to date the art. All of the paintings were made about 65,000 years ago!
This is well before H. sapiens made the journey north from Africa up to Europe. So not only was this art not made by modern humans, this behaviour wasn't learned by observing them, either. This was Neanderthal creativity hard at work. Pure and simple.
Have a look for yourself in this video.
Where did Neanderthals go anyway?
Seeing this evidence, it does make you wonder, doesn't it? If Neanderthals possessed skills, creativity, and other traits so similar to our own, why didn't they survive? Well, perhaps they did.
Make no mistake, Neanderthals as a distinct species of human (Homo neanderthalensis) are long gone. They went extinct about 40,000 years ago. As we stated earlier, the common belief has been that modern humans moved into their territory and replaced them. Neanderthals couldn't adapt or compete with our skills and weapons, thereby dying out.
But what if they're still a part of us? Many experts believe that Neanderthals were simply absorbed into the much larger H. sapiens population. The two species kept having children until eventually, no differences existed between them. And if that's the case, who do we really have to thank for the Picassos and Van Goghs that have followed? Homo sapiens...or Neanderthals?