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Is there palaeoart before modern humans?
Did Neanderthals or other early humans create ‘art’?
International Conference Proceedings
International Conference “NeanderArt2018”
Torino, 22-26 August 2018
Editors: Dario Seglie & Piero Ricchiardi
CeSMAP – Center of Studies and Museum of Prehistoric Art,
Pinerolo, Turin, Italy
The international conference “NeanderArt2018” ended on August 26th with a visit to the “Carlo Conti” Museum in Borgosesia and to the nearby cave of Ciota Ciara. This karstic cave, situated 700 meters above the Monfenera hill overlooking the beautiful town, have been excavated for over 70 years. The remains of Homo neanderthalensis found in the archaeological strata are known since 1930. Currently, the excavations are cured by the Archaeological Superintendence of Piedmont and the University of Ferrara, under the direction of Prof. Marta Arzarello.
The Municipality (12.000 inhabitants) manages the Museum, open to the public and for educational visits three days a week, thanks to a contract with a person who acts as director and as scientific curator. I emphasize these aspects to highlight the diligence of this small town towards its territorial and museum reality.
The previous day, Saturday 25, the congressmen had visited Fumane, a town of 4.000 inhabitants in the province of Verona (Veneto) and one of the main European sites for the presence of Neanderthals. The excavations of this site, initiated over half a century ago, are currently conducted by the University of Ferrara, thanks to Prof. Marco Peresani who directs them. In addition to the excavations and the annexed documentation center, the participants could visit the beautiful museum of the territory built in the small town of Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo, with the Neanderthal collections from the Fumane excavations.
This museum too exists thanks to the will of the consortium of the municipalities of Valpolicella, that manages it. These two days of “field trips” followed the three days dedicated to the presentation of scientific reports and their discussion. The NeanderArt 2018 congress took place in the Luigi Einaudi University Campus of Turin, a complex designed by Lord Norman Foster, one of the great protagonists of contemporary architecture, built in few years in replacement of the old gas meters that supplied the Turin gas network. For this event, a hundred of scientists arrived in Turin coming from very different research institutes and universities scattered across the five continents
This event has been organized by CeSMAP (Center of Studies and Museum of Prehistoric Art of Pinerolo, Turin) in collaboration with UISPP (International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences), IFRAO (International Federation of Rock Art Organizations) and UNESCO. The focus of the problematic has been the following question: “Did Neanderthals produced ‘art’?”.
For decades, this kind of questioning has been considered of marginal interest in archaeology. Nevertheless, in recent years new discoveries have pushed the academic world to take these questions seriously. Since decades we know that, in Europe and elsewhere, Neanderthals were using red ochre possibly for symbolic purposes, burying their dead, and making ornaments transforming hard animal material such as teeth or ivory. In 1995, a perforated bear femur was found in a Neanderthal layer at the Divje Babe cave (Slovenia) and interpreted as a flute, thus suggesting a possible musical behavior in this species. In 2016, in the Bruniquel cave (France), archaeologists discovered a circle of stalagmites that had been carefully and purposefully broken some 175.000 years ago, a period in which solely Neanderthals populated Europe. This non-utilitarian behavior, taking place in the dark of a cave, let us think that Neanderthals were celebrating some kind of very ancient ceremony, thus demonstrating a very old symbolic behavior.
Then, in February 2018, an astonishing article appeared on Nature, suggesting something completely new: some European cave paintings have been dated to a minimum age of 65.000 years before today, a period in which Europe was populated only by Neanderthals (Homo sapiens arrived in this continent only 20.000 years later). If confirmed, this finding would be the first proof of a specific artistic behavior operated by Neanderthals, thus requiring a revision of large part of our beliefs concerning the development of human symbolic behavior. These findings might also demand a revision of some terms commonly used in archaeology, as “symbol”, “art”, “non-utilitarian behavior”.
The organizational task, started in 2015, has taken a lot of energy from CeSMAP, engaging its staff with great effort in a work as tiring as it has been exhilarating. Equally enthusiastic have been all the personalities linked to the Conference: the President, the international dean of archaeologists Prof. Henry de Lumley, Director of the Institute of Human Palaeontology in Paris and great specialist in this field, with his 84 years beautifully worn; the vice presidents: Prof. Robert Bednarik, Australian, General Secretary of IFRAO; Prof. Luiz Oosterbeek, General Secretary of the UISPP; Prof. Giacomo Giacobini of the University of Turin and Director of the Museum of Human Anatomy of Turin, great scholar of the Neanderthal Man; Prof. Hipolito Collado, President of IFRAO and Superintendent of Extremadura, where numerous caves have revealed the presence of Homo neanderthalensis.
The proof of the appreciation of the great scientific and organizational effort of CeSMAP (whose President is the lawyer Piero Ricchiardi) came at the beginning of August, when the President of the Italian Republic, Prof. Sergio Mattarella, awarded a Medal of Honor to the Pinerolo Study Center, a very high and rare recognition, as a significant tribute to the activity of CeSMAP in the field of scientific research and cultural production.
Focal points of the Congress NeanderART2018 were the symbolic activities put in place by Neanderthals, this old “cousin” of ours, even more and more “brother” if we think that the meeting of this ancient inhabitant of Eurasia with our species arriving in Europe from Africa, about 40 thousand years ago, has allowed fertile hybridization (mixed marriages!), to the point of leaving a Neanderthal trace of about 3% in our current DNA.
A special event was made possible thanks to the collaboration of Andrew Howley who created the streaming-skype connection of the congress with the National Geographic of Washington DC. Howley has also collected a series of audio interviews that are now downloadable from the official site of the conference (www.homoneanderthalensis.org). Similarly, the phases of the NeanderART2018 have been the subject of filming of RAI-TV thanks to the direction of the scientific journalist Maurizio Menicucci.
Scholars have now returned to their usual laboratories in Australia, Africa, Asia, America and Europe; but all are richer because of the opportunity given by NeanderArt congress to compare their points of view with colleagues: we know that human interaction and the acquisition of new perspectives is the base for any future research.
It looks as if we had returned to the mythical times of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), great-grandson of Voltaire, a Jesuit, French philosopher and palaeontologist. At NeanderArt conference too there was a Jesuit theologian who is interested in human evolution and symbolic thought at his University in Boston, Massachusetts.
For now, the one in Turin, held at the University Campus “Einaudi”, is the most important congress on Homo neanderthalensis and CeSMAP will soon publish the proceedings in collaboration with the “Silvio Pellico” Center. A great accomplishment of this conference has also been its contribution in questioning the ancient paradigms depicting Neanderthals as rude brutes: the archaeological evidence goes openly against this interpretation. After the closing plenary meeting, admirably summarized by Prof. Henry de Lumley, many congressmen asked CeSMAP to periodically organize NeanderART congress in Turin. Obviously, the future is in the God’s womb. And who knows, maybe even in Pinerolo we will finally have a worthy Museum of Prehistory at Palazzo Vittone to be presented worldwide.
Dario Seglie, Director of CeSMAP, Pinerolo, Italy
Piero Ricchiardi, President of the CeSMAP
Matteo Scardovelli, member of CeSMAP, UQAM University (Montréal)
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