Monday, 15 October 2012

Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids.

Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids.

Finlayson, C., Brown, K., Blasco, R., Rosell, J., Negro, J.J., Bortolotti, G.R., Finlayson, G., Sánchez Marco, A., Giles Pacheco, F., Rodríguez Vidal, J., Carrión, J.S., Fa, D.A., Rodríguez Llanes, J.M., 2012.  PLoS ONE 7, e45927.

This paper argues for widespread use of raptor feathers as symbolic ornamentation by Neanderthals.  Significantly more raptors are found in Middle & Upper Palaeolithic sites across the Mid-Latitude belt of Europe (suggesting widespread behavior) compared to in sites where there is no hominin presence.  Neanderthal sites are more likely to have more than six bird taxa represented than UP sites.  There is over-representation of species with dark bones that scavenge and use colonial cliff nesting sites (across three separate bird lineages).  Looking specifically at the Gibraltar sites, there is a preponderance of wing bones and evidence for hominin modification is particularly associated with bones where large flight feathers attach, which suggests that these birds weren’t being eaten (and moreover no modern human population typically eats raptors).  The ecology of these birds would have meant that hominins would have come into contact with them regularly and may have initially used them as indicators of fresh kills.  Feathers, where used in human societies, are universally associated with ornamentation. The authors argue: “Thus Neanderthals, though different in a number of ways from Modern Humans had comparable cognitive capacities that included symbolic expression [e.g. pigment use, feather ornamentation].

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