Neanderthals engraved deer bones more than 50,000 year ago

A tiny bit of bone once belonging to an Ice Age deer has changed our perceptions about Neanderthals.

The decorated deer phalanx or toe bone was found in Einhornhohle cave, northern Germany. It features an engraved geometric pattern.
This brings back the question of whether Neanderthals (the heavily built Stone Age hominins who disappeared around 40,000 years ago) were capable artistic expression and symbolic thinking, and whether or not they learned these skills through interaction with early modern humans who arrived in Europe at this time.
According to a report, “The Einhornhohle phalanx with its stack offset chevrons is one of the most complex cultural expressions in Neanderthals so far.”Study published in Nature on Monday.
According to the German researchers, the small bone is not practical and the chevron design with its three parallel lines seems to have been intentionally created, perhaps as an ornament.
Silvia M. Bello, a researcher from the Centre for Human Evolution Research at the Natural History Museum, London, said that the choice of material, preparation prior to carving, and the skillful technique used for engraving all indicate sophisticated expertise and great bone working ability. She was not involved in the research.
“The presence incisions in an artistic arrangement in a chevron design on the bone of a giant Deer supports the symbolic meaning of the find and raises questions about the complexity of Neanderthal behaviour.”

The huge deer bone is not practical and is merely decorative.

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Before decorated

Researchers said the bone came from a giant deer. This animal was described by researchers as “very impressive” but would have been extremely rare north of the Alps at that time. They said that the choice of the giant deer bone for the raw material emphasises its unique character and supports the idea that it has a symbolic significance.

The decorated bone was located in the former cave entrance, about 1 meter from the person holding the staff to the right.

The researchers created their own models using stones blades made from Baltic flint. They also carved five Limousin cow bones to help understand the process. Different methods were used to treat the bones: one was fresh, another was dried in the air and a third was left alone.It was dried in the open, while bone four and five were boiled once each.
“The new bone…it didn’t really work out. The bone was very hard. Dirk Leder, a researcher at the State Service for Cultural Heritage Lower Saxony Hannover, Germany and the author of the study, said that we were always sliding with the tools.

Leder and his colleagues discovered that the boiled bones provided a soft surface that allowed them to make precise incisions that closely resembled the original. The object was made using a combination cutting and scraping. It took Leder and his colleagues around one-and-a half hours.

Early modern humans were first to exhibit artistic expression and cultural innovation around the world. This evidence dates back to Africa, approximately 100,000 years ago.We see tools made of other materials, like bone, ivory, antlers and shell bead ornaments. There are also advancements such as the use cave art, pigments and deliberate burials.
Archeologists have found similar cultural and technological innovation at European Neanderthal sites, although they are rarer. These ornaments include tooth pendants, talons of birds of prey, and evidence of funerary behaviour. There is evidence, though not conclusive, that Neanderthals made abstract motifs and stencils at cave sites in Spain.

Complex behavior

Homo sapiens is thought to have arrived in Europe around 45,000 years ago. They then overlapped with Neanderthals over thousands of years. The two groups met for the first time around 45,000 years ago. They also merged with Neanderthals for thousands of years.
The study authors stated that the engraved bone of deer was of independent Neanderthal authorship and therefore not connected to Homo sapiens, despite its age.

Six lines were drawn by computerized topography on the engraved bone to show the shape and form of the chevron symbol.

They pointed out that evidence of Homo sapiens in central Europe dates back to the Upper Danube region, which was between 43,500- 38,000 years ago. This is several millennia before the engraved bone. They stated that the first evidence of Homo sapiens in Europe, pendants made out of animal teeth 45,500 years old, is located 1,500 km (932 miles) from Bulgaria.

Bello, Natural History Museum, said that more recent research had been done.Genetic evidenceA skull of a Homo sapien from the Czech Republic, approximately 400 km (248 miles) away from Einhornhohle, was found that indicated the individual may have some Neanderthal DNA.This suggests that Neanderthals and early modern humans may have interbreeded over 50,000 years ago.

“Given the early exchanges of genes, it is impossible to exclude an equally early exchange between Neanderthal and modern human populations. This may have had an influence on the production of the engravedartefact from Einhornhohle,” she wrote the commentary.
She wrote, “The possibility that an acquired knowledge is from modern humans does not undervalue, my opinion, the cognitive capabilities of Neanderthals.”
“Rather, learning, integrating innovation into one’s culture, and adapting to new technologies and abstract ideas should be considered a part of behavioural complexity.”