Neanderthals ornamental use of eagle talons in the Iberian Peninsula

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Eagle talons are often regarded as the earliest items used to make jewellery by Neanderthals, a practice seemingly common in Southern Europe between 120,000 and 40,000 years ago. Now, for the first time, researchers have found evidence of the ornamental use of eagle talons in the Iberian Peninsula, in the cave site of Foradada in Calafell. An article published in the journal Science Advances describes the findings, led by Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, researcher at the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA).

The interest in these findings lies in the fact that it is the most modern piece of its kind so far found and the first to be found in the Iberian Peninsula. This circumstance widens the temporary and geographical limits that were estimated for this kind of Neanderthal ornaments. The find has been described as “the last necklace made by the Neanderthals”, according to Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

“Neanderthals used eagle talons as symbolic elements, probably as necklace pendants, from the beginnings of the mid Palaeolithic”, notes Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

Falange of imperial eagle from Cave Foradada. Credit: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo

The bones are from a Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila Adalberti), and date to more than 39,000 years ago, with marks showing these were used to take the talons off. The characteristics of these marks, and comparisons with different prehistorical sites, led the researchers to determine that the animal was not manipulated for consumption but for symbolic reasons.

The findings belong to the châtelperronian culture, typical from the last Neanderthals that lived in Europe, and coincide roughly with when they would have first interacted with Homo sapiens. It has even been suggested by Juan Ignacio Morales, one of the authors on this research, that this use of eagle talons as ornaments could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe.

Research article: The Châtelperronian Neanderthals of Cova Foradada (Calafell, Spain) used imperial eagle phalanges for symbolic purposes

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