|25 February 2011
Did Neanderthals use feathers for fashion?
A team of Italian archaeologists has found evidence that Neanderthals were using feathers as ornaments 44,000 years ago. The claim adds fuel to the debate over whether our distant cousins were cultured as Homo sapiens.
Marco Peresani at the University of Ferrara in Italy found 660 bird bones mixed in with Neanderthal bones in Fumane cave in northern Italy. Many of the wing bones were cut and scraped where the flight feathers were once attached, suggesting the feathers had been systematically removed. Just like the shells which Neanderthals may have worn as jewellery, Peresani thinks the feathers were used as ornaments. He dismisses other explanations on the grounds that many of the species are poor food sources and fletched arrows had not been invented at the time.
The debate is ongoing, with Joao Zilhao at the University of Barcelona in Spain saying Peresani's finding are more evidence that Neanderthals were as cultured as H. sapiens, while Thomas Higham at the University of Oxford says Peresani has pushed his data too far.
Edited from PNAS (February 2011), NewScientist (21 February 2011), Official Wire (22 February 2011), SBS.com (24 February 2011)
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