Arts and Crafts, Neanderthal Style


Unicorn Cave, Germany

Neanderthals are often portrayed as Homo sapiens’s crude, primitive relatives, incapable of sophisticated culture, but new archaeological findings are subverting that narrative. In the latest example of Neanderthal art, archaeologists found a 51,000 year old bone carving in the mountain caves of Germany.

Archaeologists were excavating materials from the prehistoric entrance to Einhornhöhle, or the “Unicorn Cave,” in the Harz Mountains in Germany when they found the 2.2 inch-long bone. Scientists identified it as a phalanx, or toe bone, of a giant deer, and radiocarbon dating suggested that it is at least 51,000 years old.

But what was most remarkable about this bone was how it had been modified: Etched into its surface were a series of lines creating a chevron-like pattern. The cuts were clean and uniform, and also served no obvious purpose, which led scientists to conclude that they must have been both intentional and symbolic…

It’s clear that whoever made the bone carving took time and care. Microscopic analysis of the phalanx shows that the lines are etched pretty deeply, which suggests that the bone was boiled before carving to soften the surface. Giant deer were also not very common in the area at the time. All this evidence points to the idea that the phalanx art had some weighty significance, and was thoughtfully planned and executed.

I’ve mentioned this before…but, it’s relevant to this post. I have an abiding interest in my Neanderthal kin. About 3% of my DNA goes back the Neanderthal epoch…more than usual among folks with any trace at all. I kind of dig it. I’m not foolish enough to lay any attribution or characteristic to that portion. I just find the link appealing. Roots are roots.

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