51,000-Year-Old Carved Bone Is Neanderthal Work of Art, Researchers Find | Archeology
Archaeologists have found an engraved 51,000-year-old giant deer phalanx in a cave in the Harz Mountains, Germany. The find, which came from an apparent Middle Paleolithic context linked to the Neanderthals, demonstrates that conceptual imagination, as a prerequisite for composing individual lines into a cohesive design, was present in our evolutionary cousins .
“There is a lot of debate surrounding the issue of cognitive abilities of early hominins and Neanderthals, especially with regard to the ability to create artistic and symbolic expressions,” said lead author Dr. Dirk Leder of the Office. National Heritage of Lower Saxony and his German colleagues.
“There is now considerable evidence of the elaborate technology of stone tools, the making of effective wooden weapons and bone tools.”
“In addition, the production of birch tar adhesives and composite tools is documented for Neanderthals. “
“While there is no doubt that ‘symbolic behavior’ among Neanderthals has been underestimated in the past, for the moment, the question remains open as to what extent of complex expressions of symbolic behavior and art were present in central Europe before the arrival of the first homo sapiens. . “
“Our results provide important new information to this discussion.”
The ancient carved bone was found at the ancient entrance to the cave of Einhornhöhle (Licorn Cave) in northern Germany.
“Einhornhöhle is a well-known Quaternary fossil site that has been frequented by treasure hunters since the Middle Ages with the aim of extracting what they believed to be unicorn fossils,” the researchers said.
“During the 18th century, geologists, paleontologists and later archaeologists became increasingly interested in Einhornhöhle due to the numerous fossil finds. “
The incised bone came from Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus), also known as the giant stag, an extinct species of deer that lived during the Pleistocene times in Europe and Asia.
“The Neanderthals carefully disarticulated the phalanx, possibly from a hunted giant deer,” the scientists explained.
“In the next step, the phalanx was cleansed of tissue and probably boiled for some time, which required the use of fire to boil.”
“After drying, the bone was sculpted, probably in a continuous process in c. 90 min, although a longer duration, for example over several days, cannot be ruled out.
“The second phalanx of the giant deer could have been collected, rather than obtained from a freshly hunted animal, and transformed after a period of decay,” they added.
“Additionally, the presence of another giant deer phalanx bone, as well as giant deer teeth at the site, makes active hunting appear a more likely scenario.”
“It is probably no coincidence that the Neanderthals chose the bone of an impressive animal with enormous antlers for its sculpture,” added co-author Professor Antje Schwalb, a researcher at the Technical University. from Braunschweig.
The Einhornhöhle artifact is at least 51,000 years old and features inverted Vs in the shape of a chevron.
“The fact that Einhornhöhle’s new discovery is so long ago shows that Neanderthals were already able to independently produce patterns on bones and possibly also communicate using symbols thousands of years before. the arrival of modern humans in Europe, ”said lead author Professor Thomas. Terberger, researcher at the University of Göttingen and at the Lower Saxony National Heritage Office.
“This means that the creative talents of the Neanderthals must have developed independently.”
“Einhornhöhle bone thus represents the oldest decorated object in Lower Saxony and one of the most important finds from the Neanderthal era in central Europe.
The teams paper was published in the journal Ecology and evolution of nature.
D. Leder et al. A 51,000-year-old carved bone reveals the Neanderthals’ capacity for symbolic behavior. Nat Ecol Evol, published online July 5, 2021; doi: 10.1038 / s41559-021-01487-z