"Neanderthals created meaningful symbols in meaningful places.
The art is not a one-off accident," said Paul Pettitt, a researcher at Durham University.
They carefully removed tiny bits of rocky crust that had formed on the artwork surfaces and analyzed them in a lab.
Results indicated artwork from all three were around 65,000 years old, much older than the arrival of in Europe, which occurred some 45,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Results indicated the shells were around 115,000 years old.
That is some 20,000 to 40,000 years older than comparable artifacts in Africa or western Asia that are attributed to Nobody knows what the shells symbolized.
Despite ample evidence that modern humans and Neanderthals interacted and even interbred, Neanderthals continue to be portrayed as more brutish and less sophisticated than modern humans.
New research suggests Neanderthals were painting the walls of caves at least 64,000 years ago, roughly 20,000 years before modern humans began populating Europe. But the new work concludes that some previously known paintings — an array of lines, some disks and the outline of a hand — were rendered about 20,000 years before Reconstructions of Neanderthals are seen at a museum in Mettmann, Germany. Until now, most scientists thought all cave paintings were the work of our species.Scientists were able to date the paintings by analyzing the layers of carbonate deposited atop the paint.The analysis method, called deuranium-thorium dating, proved the paintings were made more than 64,000 years ago.That shows Neanderthals "were quite capable of inventing the ornaments themselves," said Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder, who also didn't participate in the new work. The research, released Thursday by the journals Science and Science Advances, focused on determining the ages of previously known artifacts.One team of European researchers concentrated on painted artwork in three caves in northern, southern and west-central Spain."Our results show that the paintings we dated are, by far, the oldest known cave art in the world," Chris Standish, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, said in a news release.The three Spanish caves detailed in the new study -- published this week in the journal Science -- featured depictions of animals, as well as dot patterns and geometric shapes.Another is a stenciled outline of a hand, made by spewing pigment over a hand held against the wall, Hoffmann said.This colour enhanced image provided by Hipolito Collado Giraldo in February 2018 shows three hand stencils in the Maltravieso Cave in Cáceres, Spain. New discoveries in some Spanish caves give the strongest evidence yet that Neanderthals created art.