This belief in long ages for the earth and the existence of life is derived largely from radiometric dating.These long time periods are computed by measuring the ratio of daughter to parent substance in a rock and inferring an age based on this ratio."Our results show that the paintings we dated are, by far, the oldest known cave art in the world, and were created at least 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe from Africa - therefore they must have been painted by Neanderthals." A team of researchers from the UK, Germany, Spain and France analysed more than 60 carbonate samples from three cave sites in Spain - La Pasiega (north-eastern Spain), Maltravieso (western Spain) and Ardales (south-western Spain).All three caves contain red (ochre) or black paintings of groups of animals, dots and geometric signs, as well as hand stencils, hand prints and engravings.These contain traces of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium, which indicate when the deposits formed - and therefore give a minimum age for whatever lies beneath.Joint lead author Dr Chris Standish, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, said: "This is an incredibly exciting discovery which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed.According to the researchers, creating the art must have involved such sophisticated behaviour as the choosing of a location, planning of light source and mixing of pigments.
It also indicates that they thought symbolically, like modern humans.
Radiometric dating is largely done on rock that has formed from solidified lava.
Lava (properly called magma before it erupts) fills large underground chambers called magma chambers.
Study co-author Paul Pettitt, of Durham University, commented: "Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in meaningful places. "We have examples in three caves 700km apart, and evidence that it was a long-lived tradition.
It is quite possible that similar cave art in other caves in Western Europe is of Neanderthal origin as well." ### The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, the National Geographic Society, the Max Planck Society, and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to Eurek Alert!