Creativity is a common bond between humans and Neanderthals

Published 7:57 pm Saturday, November 24, 2012

Column: Art Is… by Bev Jackson Cotter

What do you have in common with the Neaderthals?

Your creativity.

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You’re kidding!

Cave art has been credited to the first homo sapiens, the first human beings. Now, however, it has been discovered that cave drawings in Spain date back to more than 40,000 years, back to the age of the Neanderthals.

An article in the September/October issue of Archaeology magazine said that by a technique called uranium-thorium dating, the thin crust covering of these drawings was tested and dated. In mid-June a team of European researchers announced the results of testing 50 drawings in 11 caves on the northwestern coast of Spain. They were surprised and pleased at the results.

Bev Jackson Cotter

After searching on Google, “Neanderthal,” I was surprised to learn how many anatomical parts have been discovered and how much of their lifestyle has been surmised through the discoveries. I find most interesting the fact that this humanoid subspecies, as busy as they were with hunting and gathering, also took the time to paint pictures on cave walls. The pictures are actually red disk shapes surrounded by the outlines of hands, that look like they have been sprayed with red paint. Whatever the meaning of the disk and hand shapes — religious, historic or entertaining — we know that the Neanderthals left a cave “museum” of symbols for us to ponder, much as we would ponder the art works in a modern-day museum.

What does this have to do with your creativity?

I had never thought about these humanoids as wanting beauty in their lives that they created themselves. They lived in a natural world filled with beauty, yet for whatever reason, needed to reach inside and find that spirit and satisfaction that comes with creating your own work.

I guess that is not so different from us.

You may be thinking, “But I am not an artist.” I beg to differ with you.

Have you ever decorated a Christmas tree? If so, where did you place the ornament? In a bunch on one side or spaced around and throughout the tree, arranging them in a pleasant composition. What colors did you choose? What theme?

What about the other Christmas decorating? Did you just pile all of the poinsettias and garlands in a corner or did you arrange them throughout the house in a decorative manner? Were you being creative? You bet.

In spite of the beautiful world that we live in, there seems to be a voice inside of us that is telling us to listen, to add to our lives a little bit of beauty that comes from our heart.

We’ve seen it throughout history. In the 15,000 B.C. cave paintings of Lascaux, France, the 2,500 B.C. temples of Egypt, the 1,400 A.D. cathedrals in Europe, and in today’s art museums. How surprising to learn that the Neanderthals heard that same voice.

I wonder if any of our current art products will still be around 40,000 years from now. With that in mind, what did the Neanderthals know that we don’t?


Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center. This year’s Festival of Trees will be at Northbridge Mall from now until Dec. 30. The festival is co-sponsored by organizations and people throughout the community, each presenting a decorated theme tree based on the theme: All that Glitters is Golden.