Still no archaeological evidence that Neanderthals created Iberian cave art


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Publication Date

October 2019


Based on uranium-thorium (U-Th) dating of calcite deposits overlying paintings in three Spanish caves, Hoffmann et al. (2018a) have proposed that a rectangular sign at La Pasiega (Cantabria), hand stencils at Maltravieso (Cáceres) and red traces on stalagmites at Ardales (Málaga) are at least 65,000 years old. Consequently, the authors claim Neanderthal authorship of the first parietal art in Europe. This proposition is alarming to many archaeologists (Aubert et al., 2018a, Pearce and Bonneau, 2018, Slimak et al., 2018; but see Hoffmann et al., 2018b, Hoffmann et al., 2018c), due to the multiple sources of error inherent in this dating method, notably the leaching of uranium resulting in an overestimation of sample ages (Plagnes et al., 2003, Ortega et al., 2005, Scholz and Hoffmann, 2008, Pigeaud et al., 2010, Borsato et al., 2003 Bajo et al., 2016, Valladas et al., 2017a). The possible overestimation of the U/Th dates is not discussed in Hoffmann et al. (2018a). Instead they considered that a correct stratigraphy is enough to prove a closed system because “it is highly unlikely that leaching of U or incorporation of Th would simultaneously affect all of its layers” (Hoffmann et al., 2016b:110). The results presented by Hoffmann et al. (2018a) are especially troubling since they contradict more than one hundred years of research observations on the Neanderthal and modern human archaeological record. The authors seem to abandon that whole body of archaeological knowledge and reasoning, instead placing all their trust in physicochemical measurements. This approach is puzzling given that certain of the coauthors have previously railed against “the interpretative abuses derived from the uncritical application of ‘hard science’ analytical methods to the study of the Palaeolithic rock art phenomenon” (Alcolea-González and González-Sainz, 2015:1). While absolute dating methods have certainly modified some of our ideas about the chronology of rock art in Europe, the application of these methods (including U-Th dating) i


Paleolithic Cave Art, Uranium-Thorium Dating, Open System, Age Overestimation, Neanderthal Art