Neanderthals as Creators
Increasingly, archaeologists recognize that the Neanderthals created art and decoration; the creative process shows evidence of symbolic thought. When you realize that the Neanderthals created art of different types, they seem ever closer to modern humans.
Evidence of art and decoration takes several forms. Archaeologists have discovered various types of pigments, particularly ochre, at Neanderthal sites. It is possible that ochre was used for other purposes; however, the most common use of ochre was to produce paint. This paint could be used on surfaces of different types, including on the skin. Archaeology has identified both black and red pigments. While the existence of pigments at Neanderthal sites shows that the Neanderthals knew and understood their use, it does not prove that they used them for decoration. They may have used these pigments for other purposes; however, the most common use of ochres is painting or decoration of some form.
In addition to pigments, there is also evidence that the Neanderthals produced ornamentation of different sorts, including decorated and drilled shells that were likely worn on the body, as jewelry of sorts. There is no other explanation for the use of shells other than adornment; they serve no functional purpose, other than being pretty. The decoration on the shells acts as a sort of glitter, catching the light and sparkling.
Along with shells and pigments, archaeologists have found small artifacts that indicate an aesthetic sense, or desire to decorate the objects around them. Researchers have identified a bird bone from a site in Crimea, for instance, embellished with a series of engraved and etched lines for decoration.
One of the most important discoveries in Neanderthal archaeology is a recent one; announced in February 2018. Caves in Spain that were used by Neanderthals are decorated with simple cave paintings, including outlines of hands and lines. There are outlines of animals present, but these have not been confirmed to be of the same date as the handprints and other simple drawings. Carbon dating has shown these to be at least 66,000 years old. Modern humans did not appear in Spain until around 40,000 to 45,000 years ago.