There has been a monumental discovery for both science and the history of fashion. A recent archeological revelation in Spain has given the lives of our long-extinct Neanderthal brethren more context and humanity. From small carvings from homemade tools, such as a knife made from stone, a Neanderthal would take a razor-sharp talon or toe bone from an eagle and adorn themselves with it. It is believed that the crafters may have donned a necklace with the bone as a pendant, but there are still many speculations.
In the southwest of Barcelona lies a cave in the small Mediterranean village of Calafell. A toe bone has been excavated from the small cave, which was discovered back in 1997 by some hikers that found ancient fossils and human remains from the Neolithic era, a time when agrarian villages first began appearing in Europe. While the discovery of the talons/toe bones suggests that they were for ornamentation, the jury is still out on whether or not these pieces of history in evidentiary of such hypotheses.
However, there are some people that support the idea of our Neolithic cousins adorning themselves, perhaps in an effort to communicate with others. According to Antonio Rodriguez-Hidalgo, who is a researcher at Madrid's Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA), the talons are a special look into the "..symbolic world of the Neanderthals."
John Hawks is an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He had no involvement in the study of the talons but had some theories on the ornaments in a statement to the Smithsonian Magazine. "We're looking at evidence of traditions that have to do with social identification, he said. "Why do you wear ornaments? Why do you go through this trouble? Because you notice something interesting, you want to associate yourself with it, [and] you want it to mark yourself for other people to recognize."
Before this discovery, it was widely thought among scientists that only Homo sapiens were capable of nuanced symbolism. Neanderthals were often thought to be far too different. However, recent discoveries of pigment use, ritualistic burials, cave art and now these pieces of ancient "jewelry" have painted a different picture. Despite the evidence mentioned, Rodriguez said that "if Neanderthals had a very, very complex world like us, in the record this evidence should be very common."
While the evidence is still inconclusive, this recent excavation adds ammunition to the argument of those who believe Neanderthals were more like us Homo sapiens than once previously believed.
Information previously sourced from Smithsonian Magazine.