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22 March 2015
Neanderthals crafted earliest jewellery from eagle talons

Neanderthals may have manipulated white-tailed eagle talons to make jewellery 130,000 years ago, before the appearance of modern human in Europe, according to a study published  by David Frayer from University of Kansas and Davorka Radovcic, Ankica Oros Srsen and Jakov Radovcic 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. 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 authors suggest these features may be part of a jewelry assemblage, like mounting the talons in a necklace or bracelet. Some have argued that Neandertals lacked symbolic ability or copied this behavior from modern humans, but the presence of the talons indicates that the Krapina Neandertals may have acquired eagle talons for some kind of symbolic purpose. They also demonstrate that the Krapina Neandertals may have made jewelry 80,000 years before the appearance of modern humans in Europe.
     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.
     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.

Edited from EurekAlert! (11 March 2015), PhysOrg (21 March 2015)

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