Report from: Science 23 Feb 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 912-915
U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neandertal origin of Iberian cave art

Entrance of Maltravieso cave. Càceres, Spain.

D. L. Hoffmann 1, C. D. Standish 2, M. García-Diez 3, P. B. Pettitt 4, J. A. Milton 5, J. Zilhão 6,7,8, J. J. Alcolea-González 9, P. Cantalejo-Duarte 10, H. Collado 11, R. de Balbín 9, M. Lorblanchet 12, J. Ramos-Muñoz 13, G.-Ch. Weniger 14,15, A. W. G. Pike 2

1 Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.
2 Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Highfield Road, Southampton SO17 1BF, UK.
3 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Isabel I, Calle de Fernán González 76, 09003 Burgos, Spain.
4 Department of Archaeology, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK.
5 Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton Waterfront Campus, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK.
6 University of Barcelona, Departament d’Història i Arqueologia (SERP), Carrer de Montalegre 6, 08001 Barcelona, Spain.
7 Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA), Passeig Lluís Companys 23, 08010 Barcelona, Spain.
8 Centro de Arqueologia da Universidade de Lisboa (UNIARQ), Faculdade de Letras, Campo Grande, 1600-214 Lisboa, Portugal.
9 Prehistory Section, University of Alcalá de Henares, Calle Colegios 2, 28801 Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.
10 Centro de la Prehistoria/Cueva de Ardales, Avenida de Málaga, no. 1, 29550 Ardales (Málaga), Spain.
11 Quaternary-Prehistory Research Group, I-PAT Research Group, D. G. Bibliotecas, Museos y Patrimonio Cultural, Junta de Extremadura, Spain.
12 CNRS, Roc des Monges, 46200 St. Sozy, France.
13 Departamento de Historia, Geografía y Filosofía, Universidad de Cádiz, Avenida Gómez Ulla s/n, Cádiz, Spain.
14 Neanderthal Museum, Talstraße 300, 40822 Mettmann, Germany.
15 Institute of Prehistory, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.

Corresponding author Email:

These authors contributed equally to this work.

Science 23 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 912-915

Spain – Cueva de Ardales, June 2015. Dario Seglie (CeSMAP), Maurizio Menicucci (RAI-Tv) and Hipolito Collado (Superintendence of Extremadura) had put forward the hypothesis with Pedro Cantalejo (in the photo, Director of the Cueva de Ardales) of the probability that the paintings could be the work of Neanderthals.

Neandertal cave art

It has been suggested that Neandertals, as well as modern humans, may have painted caves. Hoffmann et al. used uranium-thorium dating of carbonate crusts to show that cave paintings from three different sites in Spain must be older than 64,000 years. These paintings are the oldest dated cave paintings in the world. Importantly, they predate the arrival of modern humans in Europe by at least 20,000 years, which suggests that they must be of Neandertal origin. The cave art comprises mainly red and black paintings and includes representations of various animals, linear signs, geometric shapes, hand stencils, and handprints. Thus, Neandertals possessed a much richer symbolic behavior than previously assumed.

Red scalariform sign, panel 78 in hall XI of La Pasiega gallery C. This panel features the La Trampa pictorial group. This drawing was made by Henri Breuil in 1911-13.


The extent and nature of symbolic behavior among Neandertals are obscure. Although evidence for Neandertal body ornamentation has been proposed, all cave painting has been attributed to modern humans. Here we present dating results for three sites in Spain that show that cave art emerged in Iberia substantially earlier than previously thought. Uranium-thorium (U-Th) dates on carbonate crusts overlying paintings provide minimum ages for a red linear motif in La Pasiega (Cantabria), a hand stencil in Maltravieso (Extremadura), and red-painted speleothems in Ardales (Andalucía). Collectively, these results show that cave art in Iberia is older than 64.8 thousand years (ka). This cave art is the earliest dated so far and predates, by at least 20 ka, the arrival of modern humans in Europe, which implies Neandertal authorship.

Detailed view of hand stencil. Panel GC-I. Maltravieso cave.