Neanderthals shape up as globe's first jewellers

March 21, 2015 by Lajla Veselica
The widely-held vision of Neanderthals as brutes may need a stark rethink after research found they crafted the world's earliest jewellery from eagle talons 130,000 years ago, long before modern humans appeared in Europe

The widely-held vision of Neanderthals as brutes may need a stark rethink after research found they crafted the world's earliest jewellery from eagle talons 130,000 years ago, long before modern humans appeared in Europe.

"While reviewing eight, white-tailed eagle talons and an associated phalanx, on the latter I noticed numerous cut marks and a revelation just struck me—they were made by a human hand," Davorka Radovcic, a curator at Croatia's Natural History Museum, told AFP.

The revelation came in late 2013 while reviewing the Krapina Neanderthal collection she had just taken over, items from a site once inhabited by the extinct people in what is modern-day Croatia.

"I knew immediately what might be the implication of that finding," said the anthropologist, carefully holding one of the talons that are kept in a small box.

An international study began with the research published earlier this month by the PLOS peer-reviewed international online scientific publication.

The Krapina site, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Zagreb, has yielded the world's richest collection of Neanderthal fossils. The site containing the remains of some 80 individuals, and including the talons, was discovered in 1899 by Croatian palaeontologist Dragutin Gorjanovic-Kramberger.

But it took 115 years to establish that the talons and phalanx at the Zagreb museum were jewellery, and therefore used for a symbolic purpose.

"I simply had a fresh eye," Radovcic said modestly of her find that for decades had escaped the numerous scientists visiting to study the rich collection.

She initiated the research conducted along with two Croatian colleagues—Ankica Oros Srsen and Jakov Radovcic—as well US anthropology professor David Frayer from the University of Kansas.

The Krapina site, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Zagreb, has yielded the world's richest collection of Neanderthal fossils

The four scientists for months carefully reviewed the specimens that had cut marks, polished facets and abrasions suggesting they had been mounted into jewellery.

They could not determine their symbolic value for Neanderthals or how they wore them, as a necklace or a bracelet. But there is evidence they collected the remains of eagles, as in the Krapina talon assemblage they identified at least three individual birds.

World's earliest jewellery

"This is, at least for the time being, the world's earliest jewellery," Radovcic said.

Up until now early jewellery was linked to anatomically modern humans—estimated to be up to 110,000 years old—and consisting of shell beads found at prehistoric sites in Israel.

The researchers also say the Krapina jewellery indicates that contrary to long-held beliefs, Neanderthals possessed the capacity for complex cognitive thinking.

"This is an example of abstract thinking. It proves that Neanderthals possessed a symbolic culture some 80,000 years before the appearance of more modern human forms in Europe," Radovcic emphasised.

The researchers also say the Krapina jewellery indicates that contrary to long-held beliefs, Neanderthals possessed the capacity for complex cognitive thinking

Eagles, with a wingspan of more than two meters (seven feet), were among the most impressive flying predators in the Neanderthal environment, and the mighty birds apparently had special value.

"I believe they were admiring eagles .... This jewellery is a message. We don't know what it means, but perhaps they wanted to give themselves the characteristics of an eagle," the young woman said.

The new Krapina research may further help reduce prejudice about Neanderthals, seen as clumsy, stupid brutes in popular culture. "When you say to someone that he is a Neanderthal it sounds derogatory," Radovcic said.

Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for up to 250,000 years. The reason they vanished some 40,000 years ago is a matter of debate.

While reviewing eight, white-tailed eagle talons and an associated phalanx, anthropologist Davorka Radovcic, a curator at Croatia's Natural History Museuma in Zagreb, realized cut marks showed they were made "by a human hand"

According to some theories, their population dwindled due to extreme cold winters.

Others believe they were outsmarted by the more sophisticated Homo sapiens who moved into Neanderthal territory from what is now Africa.

Eagle talons are rarely found at prehistoric sites in Europe and rarely involve more than one element. Krapina is the only Neanderthal site where eight have been found.

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9 comments

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Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (6) Mar 21, 2015
"Others believe they were outsmarted by the more sophisticated Homo sapiens who moved into Neanderthal territory from what is now Africa."

Still others believe they were out-bred by the more randy Homo sapiens.

AFAIK fossils suggests that H. sapiens matured 1-2 years younger. IIRC the idea is that it could be a consequence of African droughts pushing families around, meaning pressure on young to become early and better mobile. But also making a difference when entering new areas where families could grow.
whisperin_pines
1 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2015
Why does no one entertain the possibility, as a reason for their extinction, that Neanderthals simply could not sustain a population because of a (possible) cultural/social acceptance of homosexuality? Too politically incorrect?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (5) Mar 21, 2015
WP,
Are you perhaps intimating a Bonobo/chimpanzee-like comparison to humans?
whisperin_pines
1 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2015
I have become frustrated trying to post a comment that clearly expresses what I am trying to say, including source links, that also fits within the [limitations] of the comment field. "Comment too long."
Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 21, 2015
I have become frustrated trying to post a comment that clearly expresses what I am trying to say, including source links, that also fits within the [limitations] of the comment field. "Comment too long."


It's not difficult. Keep track of the charterer count: "Brevity is the soul of wit: 735 characters left."
When you get close to the 1,000 character limit just add a "cont." and submit. After 3 minutes you can submit more of your comment.

It's good you want to add links to bolster your comments, but if they not backed with empirical evidence be prepared for deserved blow back. .
FainAvis
not rated yet Mar 21, 2015
Try this: In hybrids (of any mammal) the F1 is usually female and often of low fertility. Suppose these first hybrids, F1,F2..Fn, are mostly human male X Neanderthal female. After a very few generations of this kind of interbreeding, the Neanderthal Y chromosome has become extinct. And yet, such females as there are are increasingly, over the several generations, fertile to the human male. So essentially, humans gained some genes that can be propagated through the human population, and selected for or against, and Neanderthals, having no Y chromosome of their own, have become extinct.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (5) Mar 24, 2015
Why does no one entertain the possibility, as a reason for their extinction, that Neanderthals simply could not sustain a population because of a (possible) cultural/social acceptance of homosexuality? Too politically incorrect?

What evidence of social acceptance of homosexuality leading to the extinction of Neanderthals do you have?
mooster75
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 24, 2015
Why does no one entertain the possibility, as a reason for their extinction, that Neanderthals simply could not sustain a population because of a (possible) cultural/social acceptance of homosexuality? Too politically incorrect?

Because most people aren't as obsessed with homosexuality as you are would be my guess.
animah
5 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2015
Why does no one entertain the possibility

Possibly because one does not entertain any possibility without at least some evidence.

I am aware that there are cave paintings that may represent same-sex unions among ice age cultures. However I am not aware that this evidence is exclusively limited to Neanderthals.

Ultimately I can see no logical reason to believe homo sapiens (or indeed other homo species) would have less variations in their sexuality than modern man, particularly when the same variations are found in apes today.

But if you have evidence otherwise, let's definitely see it.

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