The painted Neandertal

ancient cosmetics are upsetting evolutionary stories


stockxchngSomebody’s cosmetics collection

Old notions of ancient man are falling fast. Coming on the heels of the discovery of textile manufacturing by ancient people living a cave in the Republic of Georgia (An ancient textile factory?), scientists working in southern Spain have dropped a bombshell. Or, in this case, a painted shell. They claim that Neandertals were making and using makeup thousands of years ago and decorative shells were being used for storing these cosmetics.1

This is a controversial subject, even among evolutionists. Neandertals have historically been caricatured in a very negative light. From their first discovery in the 1800s, they have been styled as dumb, brutish semi-humans. As I wrote in a previous article,2 evolutionists have only grudgingly given up on the old stereotypes. Also, this particular study comes from a group that has been championing the advanced appearance of Neandertal remains and artifacts. To date, none of their evidence was unequivocal. For example, they have claimed that the reworked teeth and decorated bone awls made by the Châtelperronian culture of France were made by Neandertals. Others strongly disagreed, however, claiming that mixing of stratigraphic layers explained the evidence3 (notice how convenient it was to use this catch-all phrase to dismiss the idea that Neandertals were smart).

What this paper did was to introduce new techniques to date the Neandertal artifacts. There are two issues at stake here: 1) the samples are old enough to be near the limit of carbon dating technologies,4 and 2) modern contamination would overwhelm the measurements. After stripping away the outer layers that should contain the “modern contamination”, they supposedly reached the part of the sample where they could get an accurate reading. And these readings were quite surprising, for the samples supposedly dated to 55 thousand years ago, an era prior to the arrival of modern humans in Europe. In the evolutionists models, they had suddenly found evidence of Neandertal technologies that were, to them, indisputable.

What exactly did they find? They found evidence that Neandertals were involved in the production, storage, and, one assumes, wearing of makeup. They found decorative marine shells (from the oyster, Spondylus gaederopus) that contained the mineral lepidocrocite mixed with hematite and pyrite. They also found a lump of pure natrojarosite (an iron mineral sometimes used in ancient cosmetics) which they conjectured was once stored in a purse or bag–Neandertal fashion accessories!5

Put yourself in these people’s shoes (for Neandertals, after all, were people6). If you were living back then, could you free up enough time for yourself to search for new rock types, study them, experiment with them, and derive new chemical compounds from them? The fact that they were not only surviving, but that they had enough time and energy left over to devote themselves to such frivolous activities indicated a high level of sophistication and intelligence.

There is more recent news about ancient cosmetics. We know the ancient Egyptians purposefully manufactured laurionite (Pb(OH)Cl) and phosgenite (Pb2 Cl2 CO3) as fine powders for use in makeup and eye lotions. These two lead-containing compounds are not found in nature, and are toxic at high levels. But when applied to the skin they amplify the production of nitric oxide (NO), which plays a vital role in stimulating nonspecific immunological defenses. Apparently, the ancient Egyptians knew that small quantities of non-naturally-occurring, lead-based compounds could be used to prevent eye and skin infections.7

What does this all mean? It means ancient man, whether Neandertal or Egyptian, was intelligent, resourceful, and industrious. This fits the biblical picture beautifully and there is little evidence for anything else.

Published: 20 May 2010


  1. Zilhão J., et al. 2010. Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 107(3):1023–1028, 11 Jan 2010. Return to text.
  2. An ancient textile factory? Return to text.
  3. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100111154914.htm. Return to text.
  4. For details on carbon dating, the assumptions behind it, and associated pitfalls, see Radiometric Dating Questions and Answers. Return to text.
  5. http://www.physorg.com/news182439329.html Return to text.
  6. For a detailed creationist perspective on Neandertals, see the Neandertal section at Anthropology and Apemen Questions and Answers. Return to text.
  7. Tapsoba I., et al. 2010. Finding out Egyptian gods’ secret using analytical chemistry: biomedical properties of Egyptian black makeup revealed by amperometry at single cells. Analytical Chemistry 82(2):457-460. Return to text.