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Updated: February 28, 2010 16:12 IST

Neanderthals ‘wore make-up 50,000 years ago’

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In this January 8, 2003 photo a reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton, right, and a modern human version of a skeleton are on display at the Museum of Natural History in New York.
AP In this January 8, 2003 photo a reconstructed Neanderthal skeleton, right, and a modern human version of a skeleton are on display at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

When you think of Neanderthals, most picture ugly, stupid beings. But, new findings have now suggested that they were probably the original metrosexual as they did their best to make themselves look quite presentable by wearing make-up 50,000 years ago.

British archaeologists claim to have found evidence that Neanderthal men experimented with cosmetics 50,000 years ago, a discovery which proves the human subspecies weren’t the “half-wits” people assume but they were very much capable of symbolic thinking, the Daily Mail reported.

Professor Joao Zilhao, who led a team at Bristol University, said the find shot down “the view of Neanderthals as half-wits”.

“To me, it’s the smoking gun that kills the argument once and for all. The association of these findings with Neanderthals is rock-solid and people have to draw the associations and bury this view of Neanderthals as half-wits.

“This is the first secure evidence that, some 50,000 years ago — ten millennia before modern humans are first recorded in Europe — the behaviour of Neanderthals was symbolically organised,” Prof. Zilhao was quoted as saying.

The archaeologists have based their findings on an analysis of sea shells containing brightly coloured pigments which were used as Neanderthal make-up containers.

The discoveries were in fact made at two Neanderthal-associated sites in the Murcia province of south-eastern Spain — Cueva de los Aviones and Cueva Antsn. One shell — a Spondylus gaederopus — contained the residues of a reddish mass made of minerals lepidocrocite mixed with bits of hematite and pyrite.

When fresh, this would have a brilliant black reflective appearance, suggesting it was used “for effect” in a cosmetic preparation, according to the findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

According to the archaeologists, the brightly coloured shells may have been worn by Neanderthals as jewellery or neck pendants for their makeup. “This is the first secure evidence for their use of cosmetics. The use of these complex recipes is new. It’s more than body painting,” Prof. Zilhao said.

During the Upper Palaeolithic period — or late Stone Age, around 40,000 years ago — Neanderthals and humans are believed to have co-existed. But Prof. Zilhao explained that the findings dated around 10,000 years before this contact.

Professor Chris Stringer, a palaeontologist from the Natural History Museum in London, supported the findings but added the view of Neanderthals as “dim-wits” would be hard to change. “I agree these findings help to disprove the view that Neanderthals were dim-witted. It’s very difficult to dislodge the brutish image from popular thinking,” he said.



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