Neanderthal Art

Neanderthals were once portrayed as unintelligent, uncultured brutes, but that picture is beginning to change. They are increasingly being viewed now as intelligent, cooperative creatures who performed cultural rituals and traditions and who mourned their dead. A discovery published in PNAS this year indicates they may have even had art. Art is considered to be one of the highest expressions of complex, abstract thought, and for a long time it was believed to be uniquely human (uniquely Homo sapien, that is).

Researchers excavating a cave in Gibraltar found an engraving on the rock wall in undisturbed ground alongside Neanderthal tools. The engraving from Gorham’s cave, which looks suspiciously like a hashtag, was placed prominently on the wall suggesting it may have been a message to visitors or intruders. There is no direct evidence, however, that the design actually means anything, but it seems likely it was intended to be seen. Interestingly, the engraving appears at a junction in the cave, where the cave changes direction by 90 degrees. It’s hard not to speculate that the design might therefore be intended to share some spatial information, a “You are Here”, perhaps. Likewise, it may have signalled that the cave was occupied.

Continue reading

What Makes Us Human Part IV
Culture and Faith

What makes us human? Many of the characteristics commonly listed as ‘uniquely human’, are in fact, upon closer inspection, NOT. We are not alone in our use of tools, language or a notion of self. We are not unique in our bipedal stance, our opposable thumb or our intelligence. Our societies seem simple and crudely constructed when compared to those of a bee or a termite. Perhaps there is one thing left, however, that is truly human – art. Surely culture, art and religion are something only humans have constructed? And if that is the case, what is it about humans that led us and only us, to create such a rich array of art and ritual, which appears, in evolutionary terms, to be superfluous to our survival?

Continue reading