Did H. sapiens Paint the Great Paleolithic Caves?

Paleogenetics tells us that when Homo sapiens entered Western Europe around 40 000 BP– not from Africa but from a 50 000-year sojourn on the Indian subcontinent - he encountered an indigenous population of Neanderthals. H. sapiens brought new technology for making tools, an aggressive mobility in body and mind, and a “modern” social organization with them. In the Near-East and Europe they encountered the indigenous Neanderthals. What did H sapiens inherit from the Neanderthals? Did they contribute to the phenomenal artistic explosion which swept Europe in the next 30 000 years? Has conventional paleo-anthropology underestimated the Neanderthals in the past?

These are the initial subjects of my interest.

A cursory search of the literature shows that clear answers to these questions do not exist as yet. They are heatedly being debated among the professionals. The discussion is hampered by inaccurate datings of the archeological findings and by the confusing multiplicity of the genetic material.
Very recently the Neanderthal genome has been determined: Pääbo et al, 2010 were able to show that Neanderthals had 99.8% base pairs in common with H.sapiens-sapiens, i.e. with modern man's DNA- compared to 94% with chimpanzees. - As was to be expected these news were received by an uproar. It is too early to pass judgment or ascertain the consequences of this discovery.

However, phylogenetics provides an explanation of how H. sapiens-sapiens got to western Europe. An excellent description can be found in an article by Stephen Oppenheimer at the Bradshaw Foundation. It replaces the hand-waving arguments of the anthropologists and archeologists with an analysis of the migration patterns based on the haplotypes of female mitochondria, mtDNA, and male Y-chromosomes.
I will discuss these migrations in a separate chapter. Suffice to say, after an attempt of H. sapiens to emigrate out of East Africa, which was aborted in the Levant around 125 000 BP because of a severe climate change, H. sapiens set out a second time passing through the Arabian Peninsula around 95 000 BP. Following the coast of the Indian Ocean they reached India and South-East Asia. At this time (73 000 BP) the super-explosion of the Indonesian volcano Mt. Toba rained tephera on the entire subcontinent for 5 years, and cut them off.
Those who had settled in today’s Pakistan and Persia returned West, away from the disaster and reached the Near-East around 70 -60 000 BP and Western Europe around 45-40 000 BP. During the following 10-20 000 years they spread all over the European continent arriving in Southern Spain around 30-28 000 BP.

Small groups of Neanderthals lived in these parts probably since before 160 000 BP. They were a European speciazation from the hominid tree. It is still not clear whether they originated in Spain (Atapuerca) or in the Levant. It has been standard belief that they did not mix (breed) with H. sapiens. Pääbo's analysis may change that. Archeological evidence shows that, driven to the edge of the territory occupied by Modern Man, last remnants of Neanderthals vanished from the archeological record in Spain, the Crimean, and the Balkans around 25-20 000 BP. - They may have died by the aggressive persecution of “Modern Man”. A pathetic archeological find at Shanidar, Iraq, where Sapiens first encountered a group of Neanderthals, demonstrates their fate at the hands of Modern Man, and at least one cave painting at Peche-Merle in Southern France seems to depict their organized persecution.

According to the old paradigm Neanderthals were slightly more civilized than Australian or Amazonian aborigines a hundred years ago. Newer archeological evidence obtained during the past 50 years shows that they may even have left paintings in the caves in Spain and France. And it appears that H.sapiens inherited the rich grave and burial culture from the Neanderthals.

Table of Contents

The Genetic Evidence: The Migrations of H. sapiens
Paleolithic Sites in Greater Europe
Sculptures along Venus Street
Paintings of Chauvet
Paintings at Altamira
Paintings at Lascaux
The Fate of the Neanderthals

Enjoy the pictures!
Send comments and criticism to
Rolf Gross
Pacific Palisades, CA, October 2012