Neanderthals May Have Used Eagle Claws As Necklaces
Thu, October 21, 2021

Neanderthals May Have Used Eagle Claws As Necklaces

Neanderthal fossils were recently found at the Foradada Cave in Spain mingled with animal bones and stone tools. In the same site, archeologists unearthed a 39,000-year-old eagle toe / Photo by: Juan Aunion via Shutterstock

 

Neanderthal fossils were recently found at the Foradada Cave in Spain mingled with animal bones and stone tools. In the same site, archeologists unearthed a 39,000-year-old eagle toe. What makes the find even more intriguing is that a claw was missing in the toe bone (left part). They also noticed cut marks on the bone, suggesting that someone removed the curved talon at the end of the toe bone. This led archeologists to believe that primates may have used eagle claws as their necklaces, reports science and exploration news provider Ars Technica.

Neanderthal Facts and Their Use of Symbolic Decoration

Institute of Evolution in Africa archeologist Antonio Rodriguez-Hidalgo and his team believe that the missing claw ended up as a necklace used by the Neanderthals.

Neanderthals or Homo neanderthalensis lived about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago across the southwest and central Asia and Europe. They have a large nose, relatively short and stocky bodies, and strong double-arched brow ridge, human evolution expert Prof. Chris Stinger explained via the National History Museum. Stinger is not a part of the recent study.

In their study, Rodriguez-Hidalgo and colleagues noted how Neanderthals are known for their clothing made from feathers and their cave paintings. However, evidence of symbolic behavior and art for personal adornment that points to the Neanderthals is scarce. This is why their findings at the Foradada cave is the most recent case of using eagle claws as ornaments by the Neanderthals. The team hypothesized that the talon was extracted by the Neanderthals manually and the set of bone found is from the left leg of an Imperial Eagle.

Neanderthals or Homo neanderthalensis lived about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago across the southwest and central Asia and Europe / Photo by: P.Titipong via Shutterstock

 

The “Last Neanderthal Necklace”

The Eagles had a special place in the lives of Neanderthals. A separate paper, which previously appeared in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, revealed that Neanderthals had a strong connection with the Golden Eagle, considered to be one of the most majestic and powerful birds. Neanderthals are known to have caught the bird for their talons and feathers rather than for their meat.

The fossils found by Rodriguez-Hidalgo and the team are believed to be the “last Neanderthal necklace” but they also acknowledged the possibility that the talons may have been used as bracelets, earrings, or jewelry in general. Their theory is that Neanderthals are using the ornaments to transmit a message to members of their group in a way that they would understand. For example, it represents a certain group to which they belong or it could symbolize virility or masculinity because large birds were predators.

The main arguments that the team used to believe that the talons were used as necklaces are the anatomical distribution of the cut marks that suggest it was manually extracted, the complete lack of nutritional value of the eagle’s lower extremities or feet, and the rarity of big raptors in particular ecosystems for their gathering and hunting. They added that although some cultures find tendons and cartilage of animals and birds tasty, there is not much evidence that Neanderthals ate the eagle either, especially those who lived near the Mediterranean Sea. Evidence shows that hunter-gatherers eat birds of prey rarely and not the large raptors.

The Eagles had a special place in the lives of Neanderthals. A separate paper, which previously appeared in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, revealed that Neanderthals had a strong connection with the Golden Eagle / Photo by: Nomad_Soul via Shutterstock

 

Large Raptors As Symbols of Power and Nobility

The only explanation left is that the use of talons was for artistic purposes. This suggests that Neanderthals were as sophisticated and intelligent as human beings. Other cultures have considered large raptors to be symbols of power, nobility, military prowess, and nature. So, it is not surprising that Neanderthals would find it the same way. 

One of the most interesting topics about Neanderthals is their mental process or cognition. The archeological record states that much of their behavior was meant for toolmaking, foraging, and hunting. These behaviors are the same as anatomically modern people some 50,000 years ago. Neanderthal art likewise suggests the potential for abstract and symbolic thinking, said archaeologist columnist Anna Goldfield of anthropology platform SAPIENS. Goldfield is not a part of the Institute of Evolution in Africa research team.

Evidence of Human Evolution

Every year, anthropologists of different countries unearth hundreds of fossil specimens from the extinct populations. The first human fossil assemblage considered as Neanderthal was found in 1856 in the Feldhofer Cave in Düsseldorf, Germany. The fossils were found by lime workers. Additional Neanderthal fossils were found in the latter part of the 19th century as well as early 20th century. The archeological sites were in Belgium, France, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Czech Republic, Israel, Uzbekistan, and Iraq. Details about human fossil assemblage are provided by encyclopedia Britannica. In each archaeological site, partial skeletons were found. Ancient DNA, the DNA isolated from ancient specimens, has likewise transformed the quantity of evidence from several fossil sites.

We may not know everything about our early ancestors, but scientists are constantly either in their laboratories or in the field to excavate news sites to fill the missing gaps about human evolution. The findings at the Foradada Cave have helped answer questions surrounding our understanding of the Neanderthals.