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25 January 2017
Were the Neanderthals rock collectors?

An international group of researchers has focused attention on a piece of split limestone from the Krapina cave site in Croatia, suggesting that Neanderthals 130,000 years ago purposely collected the rock.
     The cave is sandstone, so the limestone stands out from the more than 1,000 other stone artefacts collected from the site. The find adds to other recent evidence that Neanderthals were capable of incorporating symbolic objects into their culture. The same group in 2015 published an article about a set of eagle talons from the same site that had been fashioned into jewellery.
     David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology and co-author of the study, says the rock is roughly 125 millimetres long, 100 millimetres high, and about 13 millimetres thick, and shows no striking platforms or other areas of preparation: "The fact that it wasn't modified, to us, it meant that it was brought there for a purpose other than being used as a tool."
     The researchers suspect that a Neanderthal either collected the rock from outcrops of grey limestone a few kilometres north of the site,¬†or found it where the stream had transported it closer to the cave. Natural mineral inclusions are visible as many black lines in the brown limestone, giving it an unusual appearance.
     Fraser concludes: "It adds to the number of other recent studies about Neanderthals doing things that are thought to be unique to modern Homo sapiens. We contend they had a curiosity and symbolic-like capacities typical of modern humans."

Edited from Popular Archaeology (17 January 2017)

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