Nicholas Conard in conversation with Gabi Wuttke

Is this color from 65,000 years ago on a Spanish cave wall already “art”? (Imago / Daniel Pérez)

In a cave in southern Spain, red spots of color dating from around 65,000 years ago and attributed to Neanderthals were found. So are the Neanderthals the first “artists”? Probably not, thinks archaeologist Nicholas Conard.

An international search team has found spots of red paint in the Ardales Caves, near the Spanish city of Malaga. The Neanderthals would have left them behind, writes the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). According to the study, Neanderthals spat a mixture of colored pigments with their mouths onto a hand held on the rock, possibly as part of a ritual.

“It’s not art”

So were the Neanderthals the first “artists” on earth and perhaps more cultured than previously thought? According to Nicholas Conard, we cannot speak of art, he is an archaeologist and teaches at the University of Tübingen:

“The authors of the study themselves explicitly state that it is not art. Perhaps a kind of preliminary stage of art. But if you look at the concrete legacies, the difference with the era of modern people is very clear. “

Neanderthals had much more schematic representations, not figurative ones. Conard also doesn’t find it surprising that Neanderthals sometimes used pigments for practical or symbolic purposes: “We don’t know what information is conveyed with them.

According to Conard, there is a great deal of evidence of “art” for the period 30,000 and 40,000 years ago: “From 40,000 years, we have a universe of more complex symbolic representations, in which are notably represented animals, as well as representations of hybrid beings which clearly fall within the religious domain. “

The complexity of representations among Neanderthals is however much less.