Neanderthal jewelry unearthed in northern Italy predates arrival of modern humans in Europe

Neanderthal jewelry unearthed in northern Italy predates arrival of modern humans in Europe

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A piece of fossilized sea shell, discovered by a study team in a cave in northern Italy, was decorated by Neanderthals around 46,000 years ago – long before the arrival of modern humans in the area.



Microscopic analysis of the shell surface shows work by a Neanderthal tool and traces of red ochre - image from PLoS ONE
Microscopic analysis of the shell surface shows work by a Neanderthal tool and traces of red ochre – image from PLoS ONE

The team, led by paleontologist Marco Peresani, believes that the shell was brought to the Fumane Cave from a fossil site around 60 miles away and decorated with red ochre, most likely to be suspended by a cord for display as a pendant.

The discovery adds further weight to the idea that Neanderthal culture was mobile rather than static and independently developed symbolic artefacts well before modern humans arrived in Europe around 40,000 years ago.

Microscopic analysis of the shell surface shows signs that it was worked by a Neanderthal tool and smeared with red ochre, known to have been used as a decorative pigment for objects and clothing at other Neanderthal sites.  The find is a rare piece of Neanderthal jewelry that can actually be verified by time, location, and physical analysis.

In 2010 Peresani’s team also found evidence in the Fumane Cave which suggested that Neanderthals were using feathers as symbolic ornaments around 44,000 years ago.  Mixed with Neanderthal bones, they found bird wing bones which had been cut and scraped where the flight feathers were once attached.  The birds, which included red-footed falcons, Alpine choughs and common wood pigeons, boast plumages in a wide variety of colours.  Modern humans have long used bird feathers as ornamental decoration, but they had not been previously associated with Neanderthals.

Source: PLoS ONE

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