by Rock Art Network
24 August 2023
An article on phys.org - Ancient bone carving could change the way we think about Neanderthals - reports on a chevron pattern etched onto a deer bone more than 50,000 years ago. Researchers suggest that Neanderthals had their own artistic tradition before modern humans.
The engraved bone, discovered at a German cave - at a well-known archaeological site called Einhornhoehle, or 'Unicorn Cave' - occupied by Neanderthals, has no obvious utility and thus may point to the capacity for creativity. The vast majority of Stone-Age artworks discovered in Europe are attributed to Homo sapiens and experts have long suggested that Neanderthals, among our closest relatives, only began creating symbolic objects after mixing with them.
But using radiocarbon dating, archaeologists determined the recently-unearthed artifact to be at least 51,000 years old, pre-dating the arrival of Homo sapiens in central Europe by some 10,000 years, according to the research published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution - 'The cultural influence of H. sapiens as the single explanatory factor for abstract cultural expressions in Neanderthals can no longer be sustained.'
Dirk Leder, one of the authors and a researcher at the Lower Saxony Office for Heritage Department of Archaeology, explains that the bone clearly represents a means of expression. "We are very convinced that communicates an idea, a story, something meaningful to a group." It was in the 1980s that scientists first found evidence of an Ice Age Neanderthal settlement at Einhornhoehle and the new bone is from a dig under a collapsed entrance to the cave where artifacts were discovered in 2017. Six diagonal intersecting lines intentionally carved into it form a kind of chevron design that covers much of one surface.
The study reports that a series of experiments attempting to re-create the object using cow bones shows that it was probably boiled once or twice before it was sculpted with flint. The study reports that 'The complex production process leading to the creation of the incisions, their systematic arrangement and the scarcity of giant deer north of the Alps, support the notion of an intentional act and of symbolic meaning.'
The researchers said that a few discoveries from the same period attributed to Neanderthals include flint pieces, bedrock and teeth intentionally marked with cross-hatch or zig-zag marks. The deer bone, however, stands out as 'one of the most complex cultural expressions in Neanderthals known so far.' Comment