Did Neanderthals make jewelry 130,000 years go? Eagle claws provide clues
Krapina Neanderthals may have manipulated white-tailed eagle talons to make jewelry 130,000 years ago, before the appearance of modern human in Europe, according to a study published March 11, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by David Frayer from University of Kansas and colleagues from Croatia.
Researchers describe eight mostly complete white-tailed eagle talons from the Krapina Neanderthal site in present-day Croatia, dating to approximately 130,000 years ago.
Krapina Neanderthal site in Croatia ( Wikimedia Commons )
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These white-tailed eagle bones, discovered more than 100 years ago, all derive from a single time period at Krapina. Four talons bear multiple edge-smoothed cut marks, and eight show polishing facets or abrasion. Three of the largest talons have small notches at roughly the same place along the plantar surface.
The white-tailed eagle ( Wikimedia Commons )
The authors suggest these features may be part of a jewelry assemblage, like mounting the talons in a necklace or bracelet. Some have argued that Neanderthals lacked symbolic ability or copied this behavior from modern humans, but the presence of the talons indicates that the Krapina Neanderthals may have acquired eagle talons for some kind of symbolic purpose. They also demonstrate that the Krapina Neanderthals may have made jewelry 80,000 years before the appearance of modern humans in Europe.
Neanderthals are believed to have made jewelry long before ancient humans
“It's really a stunning discovery. It's one of those things that just appeared out of the blue. It's so unexpected and it's so startling because there's just nothing like it until very recent times to find this kind of jewelry,” David Frayer said.
A 2016 analysis of animal teeth, shell, and ivory beads found in Grotte du Renne cave at Arcy-sur-Cure in central France, further supports the idea that Neanderthals were jewelry makers. Despite the fact that the artifacts were found in the same layer as Neanderthal remains, researchers argued for decades that Neanderthals could not have made them – it was claimed that the bones and artifacts were just mixed together during excavations. But an ancient protein analysis definitively placed the Neanderthal remains to the same time as the beads.
Featured image: An image of white-tailed eagle talons from the Krapina Neanderthal site in present-day Croatia, dating to approximately 130,000 years ago, may be part of a jewelry assemblage. Credit: Luka Mjeda, Zagreb; CC-BY
PLOS. “Did Neandertals make jewelry 130,000 years go? Eagle claws provide clues.” ScienceDaily, 11 March 2015.