In his novel Entangled, Graham Hancock spun a tale suggesting that Neanderthals were way more creative than the violent homo sapiens who wiped them out. New research suggests that Hancock may have been right, reported by James Noble Wilford in the New York Times:
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Stone Age artists were painting red disks, handprints, clublike symbols and geometric patterns on European cave walls long before previously thought, in some cases more than 40,000 years ago, scientists reported on Thursday, after completing more reliable dating tests that raised a possibility that Neanderthals were the artists.
A more likely situation, the researchers said, is that the art — 50 samples from 11 caves in northwestern Spain — was created by anatomically modern humans fairly soon after their arrival in Europe.
The findings seem to put an exclamation point to a run of recent discoveries: direct evidence from fossils that Homo sapiens populations were living in England 41,500 to 44,200 years ago and in Italy 43,000 to 45,000 years ago, and that they were making flutes in German caves about 42,000 years ago.