If humans didn't create these ancient cave paintings—who did?

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Dec 17, 2012

Historians always assumed the ancient cave paintings that have popped up over the years were made by humans—though some recent findings show that might not be the case. So who made those handprints and crude drawings?

No, they don't think it was aliens, but they do believe it may not have been modern-day humans, as was always believed. Some new dating techniques show some European cave drawings may be much older than originally thought—meaning they were likely done by Neanderthals, not Homo sapiens.

"What we are saying is that we must entertain the possibility that these paintings were made by Neanderthals," archaeologist Alistair Pike said via NPR. "Those were humans' closest relatives, but they are not our species."

Pike says some paintings found in Spain are at least 40,800 years old, about when modern humans were likely just arriving from Africa. But Neanderthals would've been kicking around Europe for as long as 300,000 years at the time.

University of Barcelona archaeologist Joao Zilhao agrees with Pike's findings, noting that Neanderthals were known to have ritual burials—meaning the concept of art might not have been far behind.

"We can't be 100 percent certain that they did it," Zilhao said. "I think that there is a strong probability. My point is the evidence for symbolic behavior among the Neanderthals already exists."

But not everyone agrees. Archaeologist Pat Shipman said the timing seems a little too convenient, and believes it was likely just the recently arrived Homo sapiens who created those lovely cave drawings.

"OK, Neanderthals had been there for 300,000 years, and they're not doing this. If they are not doing it before, why would they suddenly start doing it at that point?" Shipman said. "I find it easiest to assume that people who are already doing that moved into more figurative representations than thinking that an entirely other species of people suddenly came up with making figurative art."
What do you think? Humans, Neanderthals or aliens? (We're still thinking aliens.)

(Via NPR)