Category Archives: Neanderthals

Overwhelming evidence of the use of decorative feathers by Neanderthals

Neanderthal with feathers (Gibraltar Museum)
This research should delight all those interested in the so-called “modern human behavior” or “symbolic behavior”, and specially those who emphasize that Neanderthals were at similar levels as is our species, H. sapiens, in this aspect.
Clive Finlayson et al., Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids. PLoS ONE 2012. Open access ··> LINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045927]


The hypothesis that Neanderthals exploited birds for the use of their feathers or claws as personal ornaments in symbolic behaviour is revolutionary as it assigns unprecedented cognitive abilities to these hominins. This inference, however, is based on modest faunal samples and thus may not represent a regular or systematic behaviour. Here we address this issue by looking for evidence of such behaviour across a large temporal and geographical framework. Our analyses try to answer four main questions: 1) does a Neanderthal to raptor-corvid connection exist at a large scale, thus avoiding associations that might be regarded as local in space or time?; 2) did Middle (associated with Neanderthals) and Upper Palaeolithic (associated with modern humans) sites contain a greater range of these species than Late Pleistocene paleontological sites?; 3) is there a taphonomic association between Neanderthals and corvids-raptors at Middle Palaeolithic sites on Gibraltar, specifically Gorham’s, Vanguard and Ibex Caves? and; 4) was the extraction of wing feathers a local phenomenon exclusive to the Neanderthals at these sites or was it a geographically wider phenomenon?. We compiled a database of 1699 Pleistocene Palearctic sites based on fossil bird sites. We also compiled a taphonomical database from the Middle Palaeolithic assemblages of Gibraltar. We establish a clear, previously unknown and widespread, association between Neanderthals, raptors and corvids. We show that the association involved the direct intervention of Neanderthals on the bones of these birds, which we interpret as evidence of extraction of large flight feathers. The large number of bones, the variety of species processed and the different temporal periods when the behaviour is observed, indicate that this was a systematic, geographically and temporally broad, activity that the Neanderthals undertook. Our results, providing clear evidence that Neanderthal cognitive capacities were comparable to those of Modern Humans, constitute a major advance in the study of human evolution.

In brief: Neanderthals did use feathers from raptor and corvid avians and used them with almost all certainty for decorative, ritual or other cultural purposes.

Figure 2. Distribution of archaeological and paleontological sites with 50% or more of the suite of 18 raptor-corvid species identified in the text.

See also articles at: Pileta[es/en], BBC.


Posted by on September 18, 2012 in European prehistory, Middle Paleolithic, Neanderthals