There was art and bling before there were modern humans, researchers say.
According to a report from European researchers in the journal Science, paintings of animals, hand stencils and other drawings found in caves in modern-day Spain must have been made by Neanderthals — with the cave art spanning a period of 25,000 years, NBC News reported.
A second report in the journal Science Advances asserts there is also more evidence Neanderthals made jewelry — including shells that have been dyed and pierced in a way that would make them easy to string together or sew onto clothing, NBC News reported.
The cave art dates back to 64,000 years ago, the team at the University of Southampton in Britain, Germany's Max Planck Institute, Spain's University of Barcelona and others reported. And the shell jewelry is even older — as old as 115,000 years, the same team found.
"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," Chris Standish, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, told NBC News.
"This is an incredibly exciting discovery which suggests Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than is popularly believed."
The two reports support the idea the Neanderthal inhabitants of Europe "enjoyed the beauty of both art and adornment on their own, without Cro-Magnon coaching," NBC News writer Maggie Fox wrote.
Combined with fossils that shows their hearing structures were the same as ours, the findings suggest Neanderthals also used language, the researchers added.
"The emergence of symbolic material culture represents a fundamental threshold in the evolution of humankind," said Dirk Hoffmann, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "It is one of the main pillars of what makes us human."
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