Neanderthal White-tailed eagle talon Necklace (or Bracelet) found in Croatia.

White-tailed eagle claws from the Krapina Neandertal site in present-day Croatia. They likely were part of jewelry made 130,000 years ago. Credit: Luka Mjeda, Zagreb

Remains of a necklace or bracelet made by Neanderthals have been found in Croatia.

The artifacts, described in the latest issue of the journal PLOS ONE, add to the growing body of evidence that Neanderthals had their own rich culture and meaningful symbols long before Homo sapiens came to Europe.

“It’s really a stunning discovery,” lead author David Frayer of the University of Kansas said in a press release. “It’s one of those things that just appeared out of the blue. It’s so unexpected and it’s so startling because there’s just nothing like it until very recent times to find this kind of jewelry.”

Perhaps proving that everything old is new again, some traditional cultures today still wear this type of jewelry, except it’s usually made out of different materials, such as shells.

In this case, the jewelry components were claws of white-tailed eagles. The talons bear multiple edge-smoothed cut marks, Frayer and his team determined, after studying the finds.

The talons, dated to 130,000 years ago, also appear to have been polished before they were likely strung and then worn on either the wrist or neck.

White-tailed eagles, also called “sea eagles,” are still around today. They are large birds of prey that are closely related to bald eagles.

The Neanderthals came from a site called Krapina. Frayer and his team believe that the eagles and their claws must have held a symbolic meaning for Neanderthals at the time. The precise meaning remains a mystery, though.

The white-tailed eagle is the national bird of both Poland and Germany, and appears in the German coat of arms. Usually it’s shown grasping a large and tasty fish.

Could Neanderthals then have trained these birds to catch fish and other animals for them? Or maybe they just admired the strength and beauty of these majestic birds.

In any case, the jewelry reveals that Neanderthals must have felt proud to display the claws on their bodies — a prehistoric form of impressive, symbolic bling.


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