Art is often held up as the most “human” of human endeavors. For millennia, philosophers, historians, and archaeologists have used art and symbolic thinking as behavioral indices for what makes humans, well, human. From abstract representation to creative and technical execution, art — and especially the agency that underlies it — has offered humankind a self-satisfying sense of being a uniquely creative group of hominins in our own evolutionary history.
It turns out, however, that we Homo sapiens are not the only species to explore art and its abstractions. Our evolutionary cousins, Neanderthals — long-maligned and historically stereotyped as knuckle-dragging troglodytes — had a complex sense of aesthetics. (Homo neanderthalensis — the formal name for Neanderthals — lived quite successfully across glaciated Europe, the Levant, and as far east as Central Asia for 350,000 years before becoming extinct around 40,000 years ago.) What they created and how they created it offers a window into Neanderthal life, cosmology, and abstraction.
By Lydia Pyne, Hyperallergic