More tests to be carried out at the Nerja Caves

Scientists and historians have spent decades debating whether Neanderthals were capable of producing art, notably cave paintings, with the scientific community arguing that such  ability was exclusively the domain of modern man.

However, things appear to be changing and the paintings in the upper galleries of the Nerja Caves have served to fuel the great debate.

Comprehensive dating studies carried out in the US on samples from the Nerja Caves indicate a period of up to 43,500 years ago. Last week, the prestigious Science Journal published an article relating to the study of eleven caves in northern Spain in which it concluded that modern human presence dates back 41,500 years.

The possibilities being debated are that either modern humans arrived in Europe with art and painting already incorporated into their culture or developed it shortly after their arrival, or that perhaps Neanderthals are actually responsible for some of the art.

In August, a team of French researchers is due to visit the Nerja Caves and take fresh samples for further study using a pioneering technique involving uranium. The results should be known by the end of the year.

There are carbon remains about thirty metres from the paintings in the upper galleries and one of the tests will be to date these and determine whether these are the result of efforts to illuminate the area, such as by the use of torches.

If the paintings are eventually confirmed as being as old as 43,500 years, they would not only become some of the oldest such paintings in the world but could change the general perception of Neanderthal culture.

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