A study appearing in a December 2012 issue of the Hungarian scientific journal PloS ONE, declared that prehistoric artists were more scientifically accurate in depicting the movements of animals than are their modern colleagues.
By comparing drawings of four-legged animals found on cave walls with roughly parallel published drawings from the 1880s, researchers at Eotvos University in Budapest were able to show that modern depictions of the walking or trotting motions of animals had the positioning of the legs wrong more often than did the ancients. Where the prehistoric artists had an error rate of 46.2%, the modern artists were wrong 83.5% of the time.
Once again, mainstream history on Earth had been contradicted. The long-standing consensus has been that the processes that would ultimately lead to civilization didn’t really get going until about six thousand years ago when we invented the wheel. Before that, in the four millennia following the great warm-up at the close of the last ice age, humans were, at best, just primitive farmers. Before that, we had been, for around forthy thousand years, essentially hunter-gatherers, savages—‘cave men’—incapable of much more than making good spear points. That is the story that everyone learns in school. To suggest otherwise is to invite scorn from the knowledge establishment. Nevertheless, as readers of this magazine well know, there is plenty of powerful evidence to the contrary, and more is uncovered every day. Indeed, if nothing else, the amazing artistic sophistication of the cave painters seems sufficient to turn conventional wisdom on its head.
A full thirty-five thousand years ago, painters in the Coliboaia Cave in Romania were producing sophisticated portraits of many animals including a horse, bear heads, and a rhinoceros. The artists used black paint. The artwork is even older than the famous masterpieces previously found in other European caves like Lascaux and Chauvet (dated to almost twenty thousand years ago). Still older cave art has now been discovered, but more on that later.
Such findings certainly provoke many questions: Where did the ancient artists learn the techniques that would not be rediscovered for many thousands of years? Were they simply born geniuses, or did they learn their amazing skills at the feet of culture bearers from an earlier forgotten era? Indeed, could their awe-inspiring masterpieces be the last remains of a much more ancient and forgotten culture—one not at its dawn, but in its late twilight?
From a strictly human perspective the puzzles presented are complex enough, but what about when the story is expanded to include our so-called ‘country cousins’ the Neanderthals? The plot, we might say, thickens, and the story of the origins of civilization becomes very mysterious indeed. Many of the milestones which we think of as representing exclusively human achievement were, it turns out, also passed by this once derided group, albeit much earlier.
The GEICO caveman of recent television fame has a point. To say that something is “so simple a caveman could do it,” does not give him the respect he deserves. Assuming that these “cavemen” were largely Neanderthal, they were certainly capable of much more than that for which they have been given credit.
Neanderthals, in fact, some believe, may well be the source of that great lost culture for which many of us have searched. Researcher Dr. Robert Schoch is among those who argue that Neanderthals may deserve much more credit for very early developments, which heretofore have been chalked up to so-called modern humans. Even mainstream science has now accepted that, at the very least, Neanderthals used body paint, wore jewelry, and worked with tools; and now, we learn that they produced exceptional cave art thousands of years before humans did.
Neanderthals probably came to Europe, science concedes, over a quarter-million years ago, which means they had much more time to advance their culture than we humans have had in evolving ours. Modern humans, it is believed, did not arrive in Europe until about forty-two thousand years ago. And, it now appears that Neanderthals were blowing paint over their hands to make stencils, at least as long as thirty-seven thousand years ago. That is the age of art recently found in Spain’s El Castillo caves.
Science now recognizes that all signs point to much greater antiquity for both humans and Neanderthals than was once believed. It is no longer controversial to talk in terms of at least a half-million years. The question arises: could the great, lost ancient civilization for which so many have searched, have been, in fact, Neanderthal?
As Robert Schoch and Oana R. Ghiocel explained in their article for Atlantis Rising (#89) “The Enigma of the Carpathian Sphinx,” some very ancient artifacts may have gone unrecognized—regarded simply as natural formations. According to Schoch and Ghiocel, one formation in particular, located in the southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania, the so-called Carpathian sphinx, could be evidence of a very old and very advanced lost civilization. Some scholars such as Romanian Dan Braneanu and Peruvian Daniel Ruzo have argued that a primordial civilization was destroyed long before the earliest civilization acknowledged by conventional historians.
Named for the German Neander Valley, where they were first discovered in 1856, Neanderthals, a sub species of the genus Homo, have been extinct for about thirty-two thousand years. Fossil remains found in many parts of Europe have been dated to as long as six hundred thousand years ago. In Croatia, remains found in Vindija Cave have been dated to between thirty-three and thirty-two thousand years ago. Much of the most recent, and astonishing research has been conducted on the Iberian peninsula, where fossils have been dated to forty-five thousand years BP. Mainstream archaeology usually assigns several cultural classifications to Neanderthals, the earliest being the Mousterian stone-tool culture going back about three-hundred thousand years.
The Neanderthal brain is thought to have been at least as large as the human. One study using 3D computer-assisted reconstructions of Neanderthal infants found in Russia and Syria showed that while human and Neanderthal brains were the same size at birth, the adult Neanderthal brain was larger. Neanderthals were also physically much bigger and stronger than humans.
Genetic studies now suggest that modern humans owe part of their DNA to Neanderthals, and there is much speculation that from eighty thousand to fifty thousand years ago there could have been considerable interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals.
Mitochondrial DNA from an 1856 specimen was extracted in 1997. Since the only source of change in mitochondrial DNA is random mutation, which occurs, it is said, at a fairly constant rate of 2% every million years, scientists consider this type of DNA suitable for study.
Studies of such DNA have shown that there are approximately 25 differences between modern humans and Neanderthals, suggesting that the two species separated in the human family tree about six hundred thousand years ago. This is consistent with the claimed appearance of Neanderthals about a half-million years ago, as, it is believed, though unproven, there should have been some “intermediate” beings before they developed into their last known form.
Neanderthals lived during a time period usually labeled the “Middle Paleolithic,” also known as the “Middle Stone Age.”
The Middle Paleolithic, we are told, is characterized by varied environments, from the richer and tundra-like conditions in Europe to the savannas and semi-arid deserts of Africa. Food varied with the environment. In Europe, evidence has suggested that Neanderthals hunted many animals, but, as we shall see, they were not strictly meat eaters.
Certainly new research has begun to radically change the stereotypical image of Neanderthals with which most of us are familiar—like the GEICO caveman, shambling hairy dunces. We now know they were much more sophisticated than previously believed. Startling new revelations from El Sidrón Cave in northern Spain are among many discoveries that make the point.
In the Asturias region of northern Spain, El Sidrón provides the best collection of Neanderthal remains in the Iberian Peninsula, and it is considered one of the most important research sites in the world. Discovered in 1994, it contains around 2,000 skeletal parts of at least 13 individuals dating back about fifty thousand years.
Recently researchers from Spain, the UK, and Australia combined pyrolysis gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry with morphological analysis of plant microfossils to identify material trapped in dental calculus (calcified dental plaque) from five Neanderthals at the site.
Results, published in Naturwissenschaften—The Science of Nature, offer molecular evidence that Neanderthals used medicinal plants. The finding is based on the fact that residue on teeth shows they were eating some bitter foods—plants. It had already been established that Neanderthals possessed the bitter taste detection gene. So, if they ate bitter plants despite the taste, it seems likely they understood it was good for their health. In other words, they knew how to self-medicate, something we humans did not learn for many millennia.
“El Sidrón has allowed us to banish many of our preconceptions of Neanderthals,” says Antonio Rosas, of the Museum of Natural History in Madrid. “Thanks to previous studies, we know that they looked after the sick, buried their dead, and decorated their bodies. Now another dimension has been added relating to their diet and self-medication.”
The burial site at Sima de las Palomas, also in Spain, underscores Rojas’ point. Three Neanderthal skeletons buried about fifty thousand years ago have been found together with their hands raised in the same way. Archaeologist Michael Walker considers this a sign of some kind of ritual burial suggesting concerns about the afterlife and, by implication, complex thought about the future.
As for cave painting, in caves at Altamira in Cantabria, Spain, images once attributed to humans have now been shown to pre-date the human arrival from Africa and, thus, are now attributed to Neanderthals. Some of these paintings are at least forty thousand eight hundred years old, but, nonetheless, reveal an advanced mastery of the medium.
An Underappreciated Legacy
The late British psychologist Stan Gooch was among those who felt we owed the Neanderthals a complete rethink. In books such as The Dream Culture of the Neanderthals and Cities of Dreams, he argued for a radical reinterpretation of their legacy. While their brains were as large, or even larger, than ours, they were structured quite differently. In the human brain we find both a cerebrum and cerebellum, but, Gooch pointed out, the Neanderthal cerebellum is much larger. The cerebellum, he believed, is responsible for intuition, dreaming, insight, paranormal abilities, and magic, which he argued, once gave rise to a “high civilization of dreams.” Neanderthals, he wrote, developed a deep understanding of the natural world, but they did not necessarily do so in the rational, logical, “scientific” manner that modern humans have come to expect and accept. Gooch stated, “I think that they [the ancients, Neanderthals] obtained their knowledge not logically and scientifically but intuitively.” Neanderthals were, he said, the original creators, the innovators of high culture, of symbolic values and religious sensibilities, which early modern humans (Cro-Magnons) copied and adopted without genuine understanding. Neanderthal culture was not a civilization of high technologies but one of the mind and spirit that survives today in our beliefs, myths, folklore, and religious practices (Schoch and Ghiocel).
In 2006, prolific alternative-science writer, Colin Wilson, published his book Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthal, An Investigation of the Age of Civilization. Writing later for Atlantis Rising, (“Atlantis and the Neanderthals,” A.R. #60) Wilson explained how his own view of the Neanderthal contribution to civilization had evolved.
Citing research by writers Charles Hapgood, (Earth’s Shifting Crust) and subsequently by Rand Flem-Ath (Atlantis Beneath the Ice), Wilson explained that he had come to believe that civilization on Earth was very, very old. Two factors in particular had impressed him: (1) that Neanderthal man was far more intelligent than we assume, and (2) that ancient measures prove that man knew the exact size of the earth millennia before the Greek Eratosthenes worked it out in 240 BC.
“A little research of my own quickly verified both statements,” said Wilson. “Far from being a shambling ape, Neanderthal man had a larger brain than we have, was well acquainted with astronomy, played musical instruments, and even invented the blast furnace. As to the size of the earth, the ancient Greeks had a measure called the stade—the length of a stadium. The polar circumference of the earth proves to be exactly 216,000 stade. Yet the Greeks did not know the size of the earth. They must have inherited the stade from someone who did know.” In the course of his research, Wilson found many other tidbits that made it plain to him that the highest knowledge from the very dawn of Western civilization must have been inherited from a much earlier civilization that knew much more than the supposed founders of our world.
Wilson’s book details many remarkable discoveries, including the unearthing of a half-million-year-old plank that had been carefully planed on one side. He considers Neanderthal man possessed of a very high level of intelligence and whose red ochre mines in South Africa date back one hundred thousand years. One sculpture mentioned is the Berekhat Ram, dated to a quarter-million years ago. (For more on this artifact, see Michael Cremo’s column in AR #100.)
Civilization, believes Wilson, must be at least a hundred thousand years old, which means the Neanderthals must have been the civilizers, since humans, apparently, were not sufficiently advanced at that point. Such advanced civilization, though, he, like Gooch, believes would not necessarily fit our present day model. Instead it would have been more shamanic and would have taken group consciousness for granted, “the kind of telepathic awareness that enables flocks of birds and schools of fishes to change direction simultaneously. Ancient man almost certainly possessed this same telepathic ability.”
“Societies like ancient Egypt were almost certainly collectives,” he argues, “which could explain their ability to lift massive weights.” Such a society would have had a special understanding of proportion and would have been very adept mathematically.
Wilson also cites the extraordinary discoveries of John Michell, “who pointed out that the Nineveh number (a vast 15-digit number found inscribed on an Assyrian clay tablet
in the ruins of Assurbanipal’s library) can be divided by the diameters of the sun and moon, and that a mathematical principle called ‘the Canon’ seems to lie behind ancient science: the notion that our universe appears to be designed along mathematical lines—the ‘code of numbers that structures the universe,’ which implies that there is an intelligence behind this design.” An example is the sequence of ‘Fibonacci numbers’ that play such a basic part in nature, from spiral nebulae to seashells.
For many researchers it is clear that the history of civilization, as presently taught, has some very important missing parts. Possibly a hundred thousand years remain unaccounted for. It seems more than a little important that those missing parts finally be brought to light, which begs the question: if such a great civilization once existed, where might we expect to find its remains? The answer could be coming soon. Archaeology now appears ready to step up exploration of the underwater regions located off most of our current coastlines, where, before the end of the last ice age, ten thousand years ago, vast regions were above water. So, we may yet learn what happened then and there. When we do, we will certainly know a great deal more about where our civilization came from than we do now.
Expect the unexpected.