Neanderthals shape up as globe’s first jewellers

The widely-held vision of Neanderthals as brutes may need a stark rethink after research found they crafted the world’s earliest jewellery from eagle talons 130,000 years ago, long before modern humans appeared in Europe.

“While reviewing eight, white-tailed eagle talons and an associated phalanx, on the latter I noticed numerous cut marks and a revelation just struck me—they were made by a human hand,” Davorka Radovcic, a curator at Croatia’s Natural History Museum, told AFP. The revelation came in late 2013 while reviewing the Krapina Neanderthal collection she had just taken over, items from a site once inhabited by the extinct people in what is modern-day Croatia. “I knew immediately what might be the implication of that finding,” said the anthropologist, carefully holding one of the talons that are kept in a small box.

An international study began with the research published earlier this month by the PLOS peer-reviewed international online scientific publication. 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. Via Neanderthals shape up as globe’s first jewellers.

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