Neanderthals evolved in in western Eurasia more than 200,000 years ago and survived several ice ages until just over 40,000 years ago, when humans somehow took over.
Stencils of hands found on the walls of a cave at El Castillo in Spain may prove to be the final remains left by that early species, painted just before it became extinct. But if the images turn out to be younger than 40,000 years old, they would be assigned to very early human art.
These and other images were made from red ochre and black manganese, compacted into crayons that the Europeans used to paint on their pale faces as well as on the cave walls. There’s also evidence that some of the communities ceremoniously buried their dead, behavious that has many implications.
What is certain is that the two species were present together in Spain, one ending and the other beginning. Both communities are now thought to have had the ability to create icons.
With heavier bodies the Neanderthals were less nubile than humans. The DNA of the two species has been compared, and results suggest that it was their brains that functioned most differently. That means they had different qualities of social awareness, though Neanderthal body painting and funeral celebrations would suggest otherwise.
The discovery of the early Spanish cave painting means that objective and subjective values were first becoming distinct 40,000 years ago.