The Neanderthal Cultural Significance Of A Decorated Crimean Raven Bone


In the last decade or so, we have illuminated Neanderthals demonstrated complex culture, such as the burial in Shanidar, were interior decorators of Bruniquel, were playing complex bone  instruments in Germany, and the jewelry from Krapina and examples in France. Which prompted mainstream media sources like the NY Times to ask just how human Neanderthals are, as question we proposed here 10 years ago.

A raven bone fragment found at the Crimean Zaskalnaya site further extends this debate. Micoquian industry dated to between 38,000 and 43,000 years ago. It makes us scratch our heads the bone features two notches that may have been made by Neanderthals intentionally to display a visually consistent pattern. Is this language?

Fig 3. A Corvus corax bone fragment with notches from Zaskalnaya VI, layer III. Scale = 1 cm.

The original source that documents this finding was published last week in PLoS One. Ana Majkic at the Universite de Bordeaux and colleagues, first conducted a mixed-methods study to assess whether the two extra notches on the ZSK raven bone were made by Neanderthals with the intention of making the final series of notches appear to be evenly spaced. They did this by recruiting volunteers to create evenly spaced notches in turkey bones. Their morphometric analyses revealed that the equal spacing of the experimental notches were comparable to the spacing of notches in the ZSK raven bone, even when adjusted for errors in human perception.

Legend of the image: left: notched raven bone from Zaskalnaya VI Neanderthal site, Crimea. center: experimental notching of a bird bone; right: sequences of experimentally made notches compared to those from Zaskalnaya VI. CREDIT Francesco d’Errico

Archeological specimens featuring aligned notches from different sites were also analyzed and compared with the ZSK raven bone specimen. Researchers concluded that the two extra notches on the ZSK raven bone may have been made by Neanderthals intentionally to create a visually consistent, and perhaps symbolic, pattern. A series of recent discoveries of altered bird bones that I outlined above stirred a lot of debate that the objects were used for personal ornaments, as opposed to butchery tools or activities. But this study states the notches are symbolic or rather intentional modifications on a bird bone. What do think? Is this language? What does this symbolize to you?