The world's oldest cave paintings discovered in Spain, comprised of prehistoric dots and crimson hand stencils, have been confirmed by new dating tests to be more than than 40,800 years old, although there is a debate over whether the art was actually composed by Neanderthals, believed by evolutionists to be modern man's closest relative.
"This is currently Europe's oldest dated art by at least 4,000 years," said Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol in the U.K, who is the lead author of the study National Geographic reported.
France's Chauvet cave paintings, said to be 37,000 years old, were believed to have been the previous oldest cave paintings known, but the Cantabrian Sea coast caves in El Castillo, northern Spain, would have them beat by at least a few thousand years.
Another significant aspect of this discovery, according to Pike's team, is that it adds further evidence to the theory that Neanderthals, who are believed to have made the painting, were not a separate species from the human race. The ancient humanoids are believed by evolutionists to have lived in Europe until about 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, before they were replaced by modern humans.
The university team used new dating methods, which rely on known rates of decay in uranium and calcium deposits that had formed over the paint.
However, some have disputed the possibility that the paintings actually did come from Neanderthals.
"I am one of the people who are waiting for objective evidence of painting made by Neanderthal as well as Homo sapiens," said Michel Lorblanchet, a cave expert and professor emeritus at the University of Toulouse in France. "But to date a painting around 40,000 [years ago] does not prove that it was made by Neanderthals," he added.
Pike has admitted that very solid conclusions cannot be made based on these discoveries, and noted that some have questioned whether Neanderthals possessed the ability to create something like cave paintings.
"The calcite could have formed many thousands of years after the art was painted," Pike said. "But I agree we will need to date more paintings to prove conclusively these were done by Neanderthals, and we are currently sampling more of the art to see ... I think in the next few years we'll actually prove this."