Tuesday 19 November 2019

Last of its kind: Bird bone 'part of Neanderthal necklace'

Eagle toe bone was found in a Spanish cave

Artefact: The eagle toe bone, showing cut marks, uncovered in Spain. Photo: Rodriguez-Hidalgo/Science Advances/PA Wire
Artefact: The eagle toe bone, showing cut marks, uncovered in Spain. Photo: Rodriguez-Hidalgo/Science Advances/PA Wire

Nilima Marshall

An eagle toe bone found in Spain may have been a part of "the last necklace made by the Neanderthals", archaeologists believe.

The bone, thought to have come from the left leg of the Spanish imperial eagle, was discovered in 2015 by a group of researchers inside the Foradada Cave in Calafell, a village in the province of Tarragona.

The team says the claw remnant is around 40,000 years old and represents the "most recent known use of talons for adornments by Neanderthals".

They believe the find contributes to "the scarce evidence that ancient humans used animal parts for symbolic purposes as opposed to practical ones".

As discoveries like these are rare, archaeologists over the years argued that Neanderthals did not have symbolic culture until modern humans introduced it to them after migrating into Europe. But according to the authors of a study published in the 'Science Advances' journal, the finding adds to the growing evidence of sophistication within this species. Eagle talons have previously been found at Neanderthal sites across Europe and past research has suggested that these ancient humans may have used seashells as beads to convey ideas such as social status or rank with symbolic objects.

"Neanderthals used eagle talons as symbolic elements, probably as necklace pendants," said Antonio Rodriguez-Hidalgo, a researcher at the Institute of Evolution in Africa in Madrid and study leader.

The researchers used 3D computer modelling to analyse the cut marks on the talon and radiocarbon dating methods to determine its age.

They found the deep marks on the artefact showed evidence of "anthropic manipulation" - ie, those made by an ancient human with a tool. The researchers say the age of the toe bone coincides with the moment when Neanderthals came into contact with modern humans from Africa around 40,000 years ago.

Mr Rodriguez-Hidalgo believes the talon may have featured in "the last necklace made by the Neanderthals".

Juan Ignacio Morales, a researcher at the University of Barcelona and one of the study authors, goes as far as to say that the use of eagle claws as ornaments "could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to modern humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe".

Claw bones from birds of prey have been unearthed at various Neanderthal sites over the years but the oldest ones, found in Croatia, date back to about 130,000 years ago, pre-dating the arrival of modern humans.

The Croatia talons are now regarded as the earliest known symbolic Neanderthal artefact.

Irish Independent

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