Cave paintings in Malaga, Spain, could be the oldest yet found – and the first to have been created by Neanderthals.
Looking oddly akin to the DNA double helix, the images in fact depict the seals that the locals would have eaten, says José Luis Sanchidrián at the University of Cordoba, Spain. They have "no parallel in Palaeolithic art", he adds. His team say that charcoal remains found beside six of the paintings – preserved in Spain's Nerja caves – have been radiocarbon dated to between 43,500 and 42,300 years old.
That suggests the paintings may be substantially older than the 30,000-year-old Chauvet cave paintings in south-east France, thought to be the earliest example of Palaeolithic cave art.
The next step is to date the paint pigments. If they are confirmed as being of similar age, this raises the real possibility that the paintings were the handiwork of Neanderthals – an "academic bombshell", says Sanchidrián, because all other cave paintings are thought to have been produced by modern humans.
Neanderthals are in the frame for the paintings since they are thought to have remained in the south and west of the Iberian peninsula until approximately 37,000 years ago – 5000 years after they had been replaced or assimilated by modern humans elsewhere in their European heartland.