During an excavation near Madrid, archaeologists have unearthed fossils that show that some Neanderthal groups accumulated animal skulls. Well what does it mean?
According to the article published in Nature Human Behaviour on Thursday, January 26, 2023, the fossils in question were unearthed in a cave gallery in Pinilla del Valle, about 70 km (43 miles) north of Madrid. The authors of the article said the finds show that some Neanderthal groups had a practice of accumulating animal skulls.1
Archaeologists think that due to the scarcity of post-cranial bones and teeth found in the cave, the animals disintegrated outside the cave and the crania was later brought into the cave.
Although it is known that some tribes of Homo sapiens that made a living by hunting-gathering had traditions such as skull accumulating for various reasons, Neanderthals were not known to have similar practices, with the exception of a few controversial examples.
The authors of the article estimate that the finds are hunting trophies and associate them with Neanderthal symbolism. Therefore, this supports the theories that Neanderthals had the ability to think symbolically like modern humans.
João Zilhão, Research Professor at the University of Lisbon, stated in an e-mail to ULUKAYIN that this is not something that needs demonstration:
“Neanderthals’ capability for symbolic thinking is not something that needs demonstration. It is a fact demonstrated over the last 25 years that numerous discoveries and studies, namely those concerning their being the earliest cave painters.”
Archaeologists stated that they found a total of 2,265 faunal remains over 2 cm in length at Level 3, which they investigated. In addition, they noted that some of the bones were black because they were exposed to fire.
Some analyzes were made to date the bones at Level 3, but with no results. However, a charcoal sample from Level 2 was found to be approximately 43 thousand years old. Based on this, the samples at Level 3 are thought to be at least 43 thousand years old.
Most of the examined bone samples were identified as steppe bison (Bison priscus), aurochs (Bos primigenius), red deer (Cervus elaphus), wild horse (Equus ferus), wild cat (Felis silvestris) and cave lion (Panthera spelaea). Most of the skull remains belong to species with cranial appendages (horns and antlers).
Archaeologists also found anvils, hammerstones, flakes and tools belonging to the Mousterian industry at the excavation site.
- Baquedano, E., Arsuaga, J.L., Pérez-González, A. et al. A symbolic Neanderthal accumulation of large herbivore crania, Nature Human Behaviour, 2023^