The Last Neanderthal Necklace

A falange of an imperial eagle from Cova Foradada. (Image: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo)
A falange of an imperial eagle from Cova Foradada. (Image: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo)

Eagle talons are regarded as the first elements used to make jewelry by Neanderthals, a practice that spread around Southern Europe about 120,000 to 40,000 B.C. Now, for the first time, researchers have found evidence of the ornamental use of eagle talons in the Iberian Peninsula.

An article published on the cover of the journal Science Advances talks about the findings, which took place in the site of the Cova Foradada in Calafell. The study was led by Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, a researcher at the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA) and a member of the research team in a project of the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP) of the University of Barcelona.

The interest in these findings lies in the fact that they are the most modern pieces of the kind so far regarding the Neanderthal period and the first ones found in the Iberian Peninsula. This finding widens the temporal and geographical limits that were estimated for this kind of Neanderthal ornament. According to Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo:

In particular, what researchers found in Cova Foradada were bone remains from a Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti) from more than 39,000 years ago, with some of the marks indicating the talons were used to make pendants.

Imperial eagle talons. (Image: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo)

Imperial eagle talons. (Image: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo)

The remains correspond to the left leg of a big eagle. By the looks of the marks, and the analogy regarding remains from different prehistorical sites and ethnographic documentation, researchers determined that the animal was not used for consumption, but for symbolic reasons.

Eagle talons are the oldest ornamental elements known in Europe, even older than the seashells Homo sapiens sapiens perforated in northern Africa.

The findings belong to the Châtelperronian culture, typical of the last Neanderthals who lived in Europe, and coincided with the moment when this species came in contact with Homo sapiens sapiens from Africa and expanded through the Middle East.

Juan Ignacio Morales, a researcher in the program Juan de la Cierva affiliated at SERP and an author of the article, suggests that this use of eagle talons as ornaments could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to modern humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe.

Experimental butchering of vulture talons to stablish analogies with archaeological cut marks. (Image: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo)

The experimental butchering of vulture talons to establish analogies with archaeological cut marks. (Image: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo)

Cova Foradada covers the most meridional Châtelperronian culture site in Europe. The discovery involved a change in the map of the territory where the shift from Middle Palaeolithic to Upper Palaeolithic took place 40,000 years ago, and where the interaction between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens sapiens probably took place.

Studies in Cova Foradada started in 1997. At the moment, the supervision of the excavation is led by Juan Ignacio Morales and Artur Cebrià. The archaeological study of this site is included in a SERP project funded by the Department of Culture of the Catalan government and another funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, headed by UB professor and SERP director Josep M. Fullola.

Provided by: University of Barcelona [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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