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The Châtelperron Neanderthals of Cova Foradada (Calafell, Spain) used imperial eagle phalanges for symbolic purposes


References to the symbolic behavior of Neanderthals in the use of personal ornaments are relatively rare. Among the few proven ornaments, the eagle claws probably used as a pendant are the most commonly detected. This phenomenon seems to be concentrated in a specific area of ​​southern Europe over a period of 80,000 years. Here we present the analysis of an eagle-pedal phalange salvaged from the Châtelperron layer of the Foradada Cave (Spain). Our research extends the well-known geographical and temporal spectrum of this symbolic behavior and provides the first documentation of its use in the Iberian population as well as its oldest use on the peninsula. The recurrence of large raptor claws throughout the Middle Palaeolithic, including their occurrence in the recent Neanderthal populations, raises the question of the survival of some Middle Palaeolithic cultural elements in the transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic and beyond.


Archaeological gems such as pearls and pendants are traditionally considered direct proof of symbolic behavior. Their fabrication and use were further associated with the emergence of "behavioral modernity" ( 1 ). Following newer societies, experts interpret Paleolithic personal ornaments as coding elements of non-verbal communication, which mostly contain messages about the social identity of the bearer ( 2 ). This current paradigm points to a long-standing and widespread tradition of pearl processing of sea shells, which originated in Africa and the Levant among anatomically modern humans (AMHs) long before their arrival in Europe (19459148) (19459012) 3 (19459013). Presumably in later times (50 to 37 ka), this expression occurs independently or through an acculturation process in Western European Neanderthals, and is particularly relevant to Châtelperronian (CP) arrays located in archeological strata of Le Grotte du Renne (Arcy-sur-Cure) found) and La Grande Roche de la Plématrie (Quinçay) ( 4 ). From this point of view, recent studies in Cueva de los Aviones (Spain) have proposed the use of mussels by Iberian Neanderthals as pearls and pigment containers as low as 115 ka before AMH expresses a symbolism in Eurasia ( 5 ). These results, along with new data for some rock art motifs in three Spanish caves that lay before the arrival of Homo sapiens (19459013) in Europe (19459012) 6 (19459013), triggered a fierce debate on the origin of symbolism, cultural modernity and symbolism the appearance of art in Europe.

Focus on the techno-cultural traditions of Neanderthals associated with the Middle Palaeolithic (MP), the late MP (LMP) and transitional complexes. Engravings, body paintings, feathers, funerary practices and funerary objects have historically been evidence of the symbolic complexity of the Neanderthals cited ( 1 7 ). But the debate does not stop there. On the one hand, alternative explanations have been suggested for this evidence of advanced symbolic thinking, such as interference with natural processes, purely functional character of symbolic elements (eg, pigments / ocher), stratigraphic mixtures, and even the absence of innate cognitive abilities of the Neanderthal. On the other hand, the authorship of some of the transitional European industries, such as that of CP and Uluzzian, which includes some of the most notable manifestations of modern behavior, is still controversial ( 8 [19459013)]). In the case of the CP most studies show a clear cultural continuity of this transitional complex with the MP. In addition, the CP is found with diagnostic fossils or biological features that are more typical of Neanderthals than of modern humans ( 4 9 10 ). Nevertheless, this statement is far from universally accepted by researchers ( 11 12 ).

Assuming that Neanderthals were responsible for the CP, the use of bird of prey claws as beads like objects seems to be one of the most prevalent evidences of symbolism among the MP and CP populations in Europe. At least 23 large bird of prey phalanges of 10 digits, dated between 130 and 42 ka, show traces of anthropic manipulation in the form of crop marks (Table 1). The main arguments that support the symbolic nature of these elements are (i) the anatomical distribution of cut marks in the context of non-nutritional handling of animal resources in contrast to realistic experiments; (ii) lack or complete lack of nutritional value of the lower extremities of a bird; (iii) the rarity of large carnivores in certain ecosystems (namely their selective hunting / gathering); (iv) the established analogy with other tagged phalanges and claws from late-prehistoric contexts; and (v) their comparison with the ethnographic register ( 13 24 ). The absence of any formal criticism of these interpretations demonstrates the plausibility of hypotheses regarding the anthropic modification of Neanderthal pedalo phalanges of large birds of prey as their use for personal ornaments. Given the large geographical spread and timing of Neanderthals throughout Eurasia, this phenomenon appears to be concentrated in a specific area of ​​southern Europe (Figure 1). However, the relative novelty of these discoveries requires further investigation. Here we present a new case of large raptor pedal phalanges associated with a CP context. In this way, we expand the geographic and chronological boundaries of this type of evidence and provide new insights into symbolic practices in pre-Upper Palaeolithic (UP) European populations. [19659007] Table 1 Sites and strata with cut bird of prey phalanges, interpreted as symbolic elements associated with Neanderthals or MP / UP transition populations.

CP, Châtelperronian; CM, classic Mousterian; Levallois; M, Mousterian; MTA, Mousterian of the Acheulian tradition; N, Neronian; N / A, not applicable / unknown.

Fig. 1 Pre-UP symbolic use of birds of prey claws.

Geographic range of Neanderthal populations and locations with bird of prey cut-marked phalanges. The white dot line roughly indicates the likely range of Neanderthals in Eurasia based on paleogenetic data and fossil remains. The yellow dotted line indicates the common cultural area for the use of raptor claws before the arrival of the UP. The expanded map displays the location of all MP / CP locations, with raptor phalanges being interpreted as symbolic elements, including Cova Foradada. For the sake of clarity Baume Gigny is involved.

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Fig. 1 Symbolic use of Raptor before UP claws.

Geographic range of Neanderthal populations and Locations with phalanges marked by birds of prey cuts The white dots line roughly indicates the probable range of Neanderthals in Eurasia, based on paleogenic data and fossil remains area for the use of bird of prey claws prior to the arrival of the UP The extended map gives the location of all MP / CP Sites, whereby bird of prey phalanges are interpreted as symbolic elements, including Cova Foradada Baume Gigny is included for clarity. [19659017] RESULTS

Site stratigraphy, chronology and archaeological records

Cova Foradada [Calafell, Catalonia, Spain; UTM (ETRS89) 381027.6–4562447.9] is a small karst tunnel, 1.8 km from the actual coast of the Mediterranean coast in northeastern Spain t (Fig. 1 and Fig. S1)) ( 23 ). The Morphol The cave is bounded by a circular entrance, which gives direct access to the "excavation hall" of approx. 14 m 2 . Stratigraphically, the excavation area consists of a 2.5 m section with four large lithostratigraphic units and 10 archaeopaleontological layers, 8 with references to the occupation / use of the cave from the Middle Holocene to the Upper Pleistocene (supplementary materials) ( 23 ). The units I and II correspond to the epoch of the Holocene. The middle part of the sequence corresponds to the lithostratigraphic unit III, which consists of three different archaeological layers. Layer IIIn was associated with the early gravettian, followed by the near-sterile layer IIIg and layer IIIc, each corresponding to the early Aurignacian. The basal part of the stratigraphic column corresponds to the unit IV, with the layers IV, IV1 and IV2 assigned to the CP occupation. Below these layers is a nearly archaeologically sterile unit (unit V). It has been further documented that unit V is in contact with a thick basal boulder (Figure S2).

Archaeological patterns of the Layers IIIn and IIIc and the Unit IV indicate that the cave was only occasionally occupied by human groups and had a very large extent of rare archaeological record consisting mainly of shell ornamentation in layer IIIn and hunting-related tools in both Layers IIIc and IV consists. Fortunately, the lithic remnants of layers IIIc and IV are typologically diagnostic and, in addition to the chronological context, are useful indicators attributing these occupations to their associated cultural techno-complexes ( 23 ).

Layer IV provided a small lithic assemblage highlighting the almost exclusive presence of CP points (Figure S1B). This is the southernmost expression of this particular class of tools in Europe, exclusively related to CP culture and allegedly related to the Neanderthals ( 4 10 ) Unit IV consists of 1289 remains [number of species (NSP)]; 1076 [number of identified species (NISP)] is dominated by leporids (63.8% NISP), small bird remains (16.5% NISP) and Iberian lynx (9.4% NISP) (Table S1). Twelve elements correspond to medium sized and large birds of prey, namely that of the Iberian or Spanish imperial eagle ( Aquila adalberti ) (Table 2). The Bone Surface Modification (BSM) analysis reveals a minor anthropogenic intervention, with the exception of 31 burnt bones (2.4% of the NSP), 19 long bone stem cylinders of Leporids (11% of the total humerus, femur and tibia NISP) and a fragment of a leporoid tibia with incised wounds (Fig. S4). The interpretation of occupational dynamics in Unit IV indicates a very sporadic use of the cave by human groups, probably in connection with their use as hunting lodges, in which they could rest, repair and refine certain hunting tools ( 23 ). In addition, layer IV1 shows the remains of an imperial eagle with a cut phalange. This find is connected horizontally and vertically with typical elements of CP culture. Radiocarbon evidence is currently supporting the occupations of Unit IV> 39 14 C ka cal B.P. (calibrated years before the present) (Fig. S3) ( 23 )

Table 2 Raptor remains from Unit IV of Cova Foradada.

ID, unique identification number of each copy; BSM, bone surface modifications; CM, crop marks; Dg, diagenetic break. The specimen FO15 / IV1 / E6 / 1339

The specimen FO15 / IV1 / E6 / 1339 (Figure 2, AWL S1 and film S1) corresponds to the phalanx 1 of the first digit (the thumb or Hallux ) from the left foot of a large eagle. The general morphology of the phalanx is stylized and smoothed as in the genus Aquila and thus differs from the more robust morphology of Aegypiinae (subfamily of vultures) and Haliaeetus ( Genus including white-tailed eagle). The palmar surface of the body is deeper than in vultures and shows a good adhesion to fibrous sheaths of flexor tendons. The distal trochlea and the furrow in between are well developed as in the genus Aquila . Studies on the general morphology, on the dimensions, on the results of the Principal Component Analysis (PCA) as well as on the distribution of ancient, preserved and Pleistocene golden eagles in the Mediterranean ( 25 ) agree that A. adalberti the Iberian imperial eagle or a former ancestor, is the most plausible taxonomic equivalent for foradada (fig. 3).

Fig. 2 FO15 / IV1 / E6 / 1339 sample.

( A ) Back, middle, plantar and side views of the phalanges (from left to right). (19459048) B Detail of the cut marks in the back view and the dotted squares with the area enlarged in photographs ( C and ( D ). ( E ) Detailed view of all cut marks after cleaning and restoration Picture Credit: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, IDEA.

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Fig. 2 19659011] FO15 / IV1 / E6 / 1339 preparation

( A ) Back, middle, plantar and side views of the phalanges (each from left to right). ( B ) Detail of the cut marks in the dorsal view and the dotted squares with the area enlarged in photos ( C and ( D ). ( E ) Detail view of all crop marks After cleaning and restoration Photo credit: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, IDEA.

Fig. 3 Data on species identification. [19659039] ( A ) PCA analysis of six measurements of the first phalanx of the toe I of various species of large eagles, documented in the Iberian Pleistocene, fossil record and A. heliaca . ( B ) Diagram showing comparative measurements of total length ( L ) and proximal breath (Bp). ( C ) Current distribution of the three large eagles documented in the Iberian fossil record and the European / Middle Eastern localities with the presence of imperial eagle ( A. adalberti / heliaca ) during the Pleistocene (references and data of the occurrence in the fossil record can be read in Table S5.)

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Fig. 3 [19659008] Data on species identification.

( A ) PCA analysis of six measurements of the first toe-I phalanx of various species of large-headed eagle, documented in the Iberian Pleistocene fossil record and A. heliaca . B ) Chart showing comparative measurements of total length ( L ) and proximal breath (Bp). ( C ) Current distribution of The Three Great Eagles found in the Iberian fossil record and European / Middle Eastern areas documented in the presence of Imperi are al eagles ( A. adalberti / heliaca ) during the Pleistocene (Notes and data on occurrences in the fossil record can be found in Table S5.

However, the origin and development of this species is controversial. A. adalberti and Aquila heliaca (Eastern imperial eagle) are currently considered not only as separate species but also as subspecies, allospecies or half-species. Based on molecular data, some authors date the divergence between these two raptors to at least about 1 million years (Ma), while other authors suggest that the cleavage occurred in the Holocene or the terminal Pleistocene (<13 ka BC) ( 26 27 ). Moreover, divergence seems to have given a male-mediated gene flow, complicating the scenario ( 26 ). The solution to this problem is far from the objectives of this paper, although the Foradada specimens may add to our knowledge of the evolutionary history of Imperial Eagles. If the copies presented in this work belong to A. adalberti or their ancestors, they would be the oldest proven find of the species so far. If these remains belong to the species A. heliaca then it would be the first occurrence of this species in the fossil record of Iberia (for the entire period of the Quaternary, Pleistocene or Holocene). However, at the present time, this problem can not be solved for this case. Therefore, the Foradada specimen is mentioned later in this study by González & # 39; Semispecies Classification ( 27 ), expressed in parentheses and trinomially as A. heliaca adalberti and as imperial eagle feeling lato if we refer to the colloquial name.

The phalange has 12 cut marks on the reverse side The diaphysis appears along approximately two thirds of the total length of the phalanx (Figure 2 and supplementary materials). Most of the incisions ( n = 11) are oblique to the major axis of the bone and range from the proximal epiphysis to the distal extremity of the bone. These strips are aligned parallel to each other. All of these oblique cuts are deep and have both composite streaks and the associated shoulder effect as deep as the main grooves produced by retouched stone tools ( 28 ). An additional incision can be observed which is oriented obliquely with a longitudinal tendency. This last mark is more superficial than the previous markers and superimposed on all other cuts. The 12 observed cuts have an average length of 3.67 mm and a width of 0.23 mm. As can be seen in Table S2, a general increase in the opening angle of each groove can be observed, while a similar pattern is observed by a decrease in the depth of each profile along the groove. However, this variation is relatively subtle and gradual, which is most likely explained by the physical properties and pressure exerted at the incision ( 29 ). However, the homogeneity of the groove shape is clearly represented by the cross-sectional morphology and its evolution during the incision. The analysis of proccrustes shows that all of these markers have an asymmetric cross-section (Figures 4A and STL S2). This feature is one of the key features described by several authors as cutting marks when diagnosing a taphonomic track ( 28 ). Looking only at the profile shape, these taphonomic traces are clearly comparable to cut-mark samples examined by many of them (eg 30 )] in contrast to the morphology of other linear traces such as tooth scores ( 31 ).

4 Cross-sectional morphology analysis using the HIROX KH-8700 3D Digital Microscope.

( A ) 2D GPA and mean shape of cross-sectional area profiles over 30, 50 and 70% of each incision. ( B ) 3D GPA and mean shape of the entire incision. Photo credits: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, IDEA.

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Fig. 4 Cross-sectional morphology analysis using the HIROX KH-8700 3D Digital Microscope.

A ) 2D GPA and mean shape of sectional cross-sectional profiles over 30, 50 and 70% of each incision. ( B ) 3D GPA and middle incision of entire incision Photo credit: Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo , IDEA.

The three-dimensional (3D) analysis (Figure 4B and supplementary materials) shows that the depth and shape of the linear mark are much more pronounced than what would be expected from a mark, in conjunction with the clear missing With a rounded bottom and other features, this also excludes the possibility that these marks may be confused as a product of other natural substances, carnivores, humans or even herbivores ( 32 ).) While these marks are associated with several other taphonomic changes As with hemicidal BSM, they do not prevent the morphological study of these traces to an extent that is excessively equivalent ( 33 ). The position and depth of the label are all consistent with experimental work reported by Romandini et al. were presented. ( 15 ), which associate these streaks with the disarticulation of the claw and the entire cipher from the Tarsometatarsus. Apart from FO15 / IV1 / E6 / 1339, no other species of eagle or raptor shows any anthropogenic changes. It should be noted, however, that all the remnants of A. [ heliaca ] adalberti are derived from cecal elements, of which only one talon was recovered. This unusual representation of skeletal elements may be considered important at this point compared to other common small bird rests (Tables S1 and S3 and Fig. S5) (Supplementary Materials).


The exploitation of birds As a vital and non-vital resource, several zooarchaeological studies have shown that capturing birds was part of the behavioral variability of Neanderthals ( 7 34 ] 35 ). Although not a common practice, the consumption of birds of prey among hunters and gatherers was confirmed by ethnographic data ( 36 ) and supported by archaeological records, including other Neanderthal sites ( 37 . 38 ). Neanderthal birds are used almost exclusively for symbolic purposes ( 7 ), while their use as raw material for the production of household tools is extremely rare (supplementary materials) ( 39 ) ,

Claws have been found to have non-nutritional value to support the claim that they are symbolically used by Neanderthals and are not used for nutritional purposes ( 13 . 15 ). Although the apparent consumption of claws according to the current Spanish, Latin American and Oriental recipes may be considered a bad idea, the edibility of the raptor's feet may only be a matter of cooking and taste to appreciate the skin and cartilaginous tissue this bone is present. Cutting marks are of course only an indication of anthropogenic manipulation. Their presence can only indicate the removal of non-inedible areas by the butcher.

This study shows how a combination of traditional and newly developed methodological approaches in crop mark analysis can be an effective tool for classifying BSM. Our results strongly follow the classification of the marks on FO15 / IV1 / E6 / 1339 as cut marks. Their presence is a fundamental and unique find when it comes to constructing the hypothesis and reasoning for the manipulation of these elements by ancient humans. For this reason, the combination of old and new methods and tools for BSM analysis is essential if the presence of cut marks can lead to relevant evolutionary hypotheses. In addition, we agree with the interpretation of these cut marks as a product of the talone extraction or removal of the claw shell, regardless of the phalanx in which the traces are present ( 13 24 ). This observation is supported in particular by neo-taphonomic experiments that support the construction of our interpretation ( 15 ). The additional arguments that cause us to reject the food nature of these remains are (i) the scarcity of raptor remains in the Foradada Collection, namely the selection of species for anthropogenic handling; (ii) the high anatomical bias in favor of phalanges, presenting a selection of anatomical parts; and (iii) the absence of other BSM related to anthropogenic consumption. This includes human chewing, green breaking, burning and any traces of BSMs on raptor bones or other elements in most fauna.

With regard to species and anatomical selection, no cut marks are yet to be found on the pedal phalanges of other birds, except birds of prey, except Baume Gigny and Fumane A9 ( 14 17 ). This can be extended to the case of large carnivore claws, which are more common when used as tools. This extraordinary find substantiates their interpretation as symbolic elements and suggests that Neanderthals transmitted large symbolic connotations to great birds of prey similar to present-day traditional societies ( 35 40 ). The symbolic meaning majestic eagle as large predators could thus be transferred to some body parts as claws and feathers. While most archaeological cases have shown this use in large eagle claws, other species are also present, including vultures and eagle owls. By the same logic, the claws of other species should also convey other meanings, considering that both traditional and contemporary societies associate vultures and eagles with conflicting concepts. The same goes for the Swan of Baume Gigny, where the modest claw of a duck can barely express the same symbolic message as a sea eagle claw. Similarly, Fumane A9's black grouse's claw presents another interesting case. Our findings from Foradada increase the number of cases in which large eagles were used especially for their claws. In this sense, the selection of the larger eagles available in the Palaearctic ecosystems dominates in the middle and middle to upper Paleolithic, accounting for 91.3% of all documented cases (21 of 23 cases). This suggests a correlation between the selected taxon and the processed object. The example of Foradada also shows an increase in the number of species represented. While some authors may have suggested a special symbolic significance for the use of large eagle "ornamental claws" ( 13 ) as well as large diurnal raptors associated with scavenging habits ( 20 35 ), at least in the case of claws, the increase in biodiversity detected at these sites, including the Imperial eagle in Cova Foradada and the vulture and the eagle owl in other MP / CP locations ( 13 18 20 ) suggest greater complexity in terms of the symbolic nature of these elements. Current conclusions regarding claws that are interpreted as ornaments suggest that they are "surviving traces of ancient human communication" ( 2 ), and that is why claws of different birds could have different looks and behaviors different messages about the transferred identity of the owner. In contrast, these archaic populations may not have had to distinguish taxonomically between large species of birds of prey, whether or not this was possible.

Archaeological parallels specifically documented by late Pleistocene and Holocene hunters and collectors support the symbolic nature of these types of elements ( 38 41 44 ). Given the same kind of zooarcheological and taphonomic evidence, the interpretation of specimens as completely symbolic in AMH contexts leaves little room for speculation. This is enforced if the same elements and evidence are found at MP / CP locations as in the case of Foradada. In particular, manipulated claws are not very common in UP accumulations, which are usually found only in Magdalenian (17/12 ka) ( 24 ). In addition, the cases documented in the early UP seem to be extremely rare. Es wurden nur zwei veröffentlicht, ein Talon von Bubo scandiacus aus La Quina Aval (assoziiert mit frühen Aurignacian) ( 42 ) und ein Talon von wahrscheinlich Gyp fulvus aus Üçağizli (assoziiert mit Ahmarian) ( 41 ). Dies kann wiederum auf Foradada angewendet werden, wo keine frühe oder späte UP-Schicht anthropogen modifizierte Raubvogel-Phalangen geliefert hat. Muschelperlen hingegen sind im Überfluss vorhanden. Derzeit weisen UP-Standorte im iberischen Mittelmeerraum und auf der restlichen iberischen Halbinsel keine vergleichbaren Funde auf, mit Ausnahme von Santa Catalina, Biskaya (Spanien), wo Schnee-Eulen ( Bubo scandiacus ) Klauen wurden mit magdalenischen archäologischen Schichten in Verbindung gebracht ( 24 ).

Zusätzlich zu archäologischen Parallelen belegen die ethnografischen Daten, dass verschiedene kulturelle Gruppen aller Kontinente Greifvogelklauen / Krallen für die Herstellung einer großen Vielfalt verwendet haben von Elementen, die mit Ritualen, Tänzen, persönlichen Verzierungen, Grabbeigaben usw. verbunden sind ( 38 44 ). Lediglich das National Eagle Repository (NER) in Colorado (USA) liefert derzeit jährlich mehr als 600 Adlerkadaver für religiöse und kulturelle Zwecke an amerikanische Nationen. Die am häufigsten verwendeten Elemente sind Federn und die Gliedmaßen dieser Tiere (zwischen 1200 und 1500 Adlergliedmaßen werden jährlich geliefert). In allen Fällen gehören die Kadaver zu zwei Arten, dem Weißkopfseeadler ( Haliaeetus leucocephalus ) und dem Steinadler ( Aquila chrysaetos ), da diese Arten für die meisten die höchste symbolische Bedeutung haben Ureinwohner Amerikas.

Nachdem die Verwendung von Raubvogelkrallen in Bezug auf Ernährung und Nützlichkeit ausgeschlossen und die Interpretation ähnlicher Objekte in Zusammenhängen mit modernen Menschen erwogen wurde, ist die endgültige Interpretation ihrer Verwendung als Symbol sowohl plausibel als auch wahrscheinlich. Obwohl sich die Forscher in der Regel über die Symbolik von Krallen einig sind, wurde ihre Definition dieser Elemente als persönliche Ornamente mit Bedacht untersucht. Die meisten sprachen sich dafür aus, die Krallen als „vermeintliche Ornamente“ zu definieren, während andere sich dafür entschieden haben, diese Funde direkt als Beispiel für „Neandertalerschmuck“ zu bezeichnen ( 19 ). In accepting the use of talons as personal ornaments, this can be considered a tradition that predates any other manifestation of symbolism among Neanderthals or AMH, especially those in which seashells play a central role (5). If not, this manifestation also entails important implications for the emergence of symbolism and behavioral modernity, although further investigation is necessary to establish the functionality behind these objects. Regardless of whether the talons were hanging “beads,” part of necklaces, earrings, or any other elements for which there are no current parallels, the case of Foradada indicates the symbolic use of talons to be a well-rooted tradition among the Neanderthals of southern Europe for more than 80 millennia. Furthermore, our research suggests the presence of a common cultural territory in which the meaning conveyed by these large-raptor talons could probably be recognized by individuals from different groups. To date, the total absence of raptor talon exploitation in the African Paleolithic record (3540) forces us to ask ourselves for the direction of cultural interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans.

Neanderthal origins are currently situated around the second half of the Middle Pleistocene, while classic forms of these populations appear somewhat later during the MIS 5/4. Moreover, the archeological record indicates that they were very close to modern humans in behavioral terms, especially considering their tools, use of fire technology, foraging/hunting strategies, organization of living areas, and mobility. Hybridization between Neanderthals and AMH has been recently proven, highlighting how close both species were (45). Encephalic evolution also supports that the fundamental components needed for symbolic and abstract thinking are likely to be present during the end of the Middle Pleistocene (46). Nevertheless, evidence of symbolic behavior among Neanderthals is still scarce, especially if we compare this with the subsequent inflation of symbolism of modern humans (247). Even so, the claims for symbolism among Neanderthals are much more frequent than among any other human species (1471320).

The use of raptor talons in Foradada must be added to the scarce pieces of evidence of symbolism among premodern humans in Europe. The symbolic and non-utilitarian meaning of raptor talons implies that Neanderthals would have had the ability to create and understand fully abstract concepts. The standardization and recurrent use of this kind of element can be interpreted as a nonverbal code and could indicate part of a communicative technology (2). If we accept this interpretation, then Neanderthals would have had social and cultural structures complex enough to convey the use and meaning of these codes both in time, from generation to generation, and through space. This represents a remarkable advance with respect to our knowledge about the symbolic behavior of the Neanderthals because, in many occasions, such evidences are unique, sporadic, or little standardized facts.

The case presented in this paper is evidence of the last occurrence of the use of raptor talons among Neanderthals, immersed in a cultural movement in which other jewelry traditions, developed independently or not, are documented (1539). This practice, which emerged in the early MP, appears from time to time but recurrently in the Neanderthal world surviving on one of the last expressions of their material culture, the CP, and probably extinguishing with them forever.


Excavation methods

Cova Foradada was systematically excavated in extension according to an artificial subdivision of the site in 1 m × 1 m squares, following the natural inclination of the geological layers. Regarding faunal remains, all ≥2-cm and all identifiable specimens, regardless of size, were recovered and their coordinates were documented on a 3D plot. In addition, all the excavated sediment previously recovered by square, layer, and relative depth (5-cm ranges) were water-sieved using superimposed 1-, 0.5-, and 0.05-mm mesh screens. These finds were then bagged. Microfossils were then sorted and classified.

Zooarcheological and taphonomical methods

Anatomical and taxonomic determination of mammalian and bird remains were carried out in the Zooarcheological and Taphonomical Laboratory of the Catalàn Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES). Avian reference collections from the Nat-Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona in Barcelona, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, Laboratório de Arqueociências—LARC-DGPC in Lisbon, Estación Biológica de Doñana in Seville, and Naturhistorisches Museum Wien were used for comparative purposes. The osteological measurements were taken using a digital caliper with a precision of two decimal places in six specified anatomical points: proximodistal length (L), proximal mediolateral width (BP), mediolateral width at midshaft (SD), distal mediolateral width (Bd1)distal mediolateral width at the beginning of the trochlea (Bd2), proximal dorsopalmar height (Bapp), and the distal dorsopalmar height at the beginning of the trochlea (Badp). The comparative data can be consulted in table S4. Bone surfaces of all faunal remains were inspected macroscopically and microscopically with a stereomicroscope (OPTHEC, 120 Hz model), using magnifications from ×15 to ×45.

Cut marks and their relationship with specific butchering activities were identified on the basis of the criteria of Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. (28) and Romandini et al. (15). In addition, 3D reconstructions of the marks were carried out following the methodological protocol established by Courtenay et al. (48). This approach digitalizes each trace using the HIROX KH-8700 3D Digital Microscope with an MXG-5000REZ triple objective revolving lens. First, cross sections of each mark were produced using the midrange lens at a ×600 magnification. A fixed high-intensity light-emitting diode light source was placed above each sample, combining the use of coaxial and ring illumination. 3D digital reconstructions were produced using a combination of quick auto focus and depth synthesis functions that are provided by the HIROX’s system, generating a 3D display of each mark where measurements could be taken and cross-section profiles could be extracted. To construct each digital image, between 110 and 130 photos were taken for each profile. The capturing and assessment of the morphology of each mark’s profile were carried out using a total of three cross sections, taken at 30, 50, and 70% of the total length of each mark. As described by Maté González et al. (30), this range along the groove is suggested to be the most representative for cut mark morphological analysis.

These profiles were then exported to the free tpsDig2 (v.2.1.7) software where the allocation of seven homologous landmarks was carried out following the geometric morphometric models described by Maté González et al. (30). The resulting files produced through landmark allocation were then edited and imported into the free software R [wwwr-projectorg;(49)]where a full Procrustes fit was performed using the Geomorph library (50). This package can be used to prepare the sample for multivariate statistical analysis and is commonly referred to as a generalized Procrustes analysis (GPA). Through GPA, each individual is standardized through a series of superimposition procedures involving the translation, rotation, and scaling of each shape. Any differences in structure can thus be studied through patterns of variation and covariation, which can then be statistically assessed (51). The library Shapes (52) was then used to calculate and plot the mean shape of each cross section. Additional measurements concerning the depth and opening angle of each of the profiles were later taken. To capture the entire shape of these incisions, further digital reconstruction was carried out on the entire mark using the low-range lens at ×100 or ×150 magnification, depending on the necessities of the analyst with regard to resolution (48). To capture the entire length of each mark, the HIROX’s tiling function was used to create a mosaic and complete digital reconstruction of each groove. Thirty photos were taken for each tile, while any number between 15 and 32 tiles was used to create the final image. With the use of a high-pixel resolution and the consequential stacking of photos produced by the microscope, the entire shape of the taphonomic trace could be reproduced digitally. A 13-landmark model, as developed by Courtenay et al. (53), was then used to capture the entire shape of the groove. The position of each landmark was recorded through a series of measurements. This was done first using the “xy-width” function to measure and plot the location of each landmark across a 2D graph, followed by the measurement of depth using the “point height” function to establish each landmark’s position along the z-axis of a 3D plot. Landmark coordinates were recorded and processed in the same manner as the 2D profiles.


Supplementary material for this article is available at http://advances.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/5/11/eaax1984/DC1

Supplementary Text

Fig. S1. Different views of Cova Foradada and CP points.

Fig. S2. Stratigraphic column.

Fig. S3. Horizontal and vertical location of the phalange FO15/ IV1/E6/1339.

Fig. S4. Anthropogenic modifications on leporid bones in Unit IV of Cova Foradada.

Fig. S5. Anatomical representation of large raptors versus small birds.

Table S1. NISP, percentage and minimal number of individuals (MNI), and number of specimens for Unit IV and layer IV, IV1, and IV2 faunal assemblage at Cova Foradada.

Table S2. Average measurements of the opening angle and depth of incision profiles at 30, 50, and 70% of the groove’s total length.

Table S3. Skeletal representation of small birds from Unit IV of Cova Foradada.

Table S4. Measurements of the first phalanx of digit I used for comparative purposes and data from the specimen of Cova Foradada.

Table S5. Pleistocene/Early Holocene fossil remains of A. adalberti and A. heliaca in Europe and Near East.

Movie S1. Animation of the 3D model of eagle phalanx with cut marks recovered in Cova Foradada.

STL S1. www.morphosource.org/Detail/MediaDetail/Show/media_id/44124

STL S2. www.morphosource.org/Detail/MediaDetail/Show/media_id/44124

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Acknowledgments: We thank all the people and institutions that collaborated in the fieldwork research at Cova Foradada, especially the city council of Calafell. We thank A. Bucchi, H.-M. Berg, L. Cobo, D. Csermely, A. Gómez-Olivencia, N. Gregorev, B. Kelly, V. Laroulandie, C. Lefevre, E. Maldonado, C. Núñez-Lahuerta, Ó. Pérez-Parque, J. Quesada, Y. Quintino, A. J. Romero, R. Sáez, G. A. Tsoukalos, P. Vallverdú, and D. Wiist for providing different data, references, comments, and help that have improved this work. We thank E. Moreno for restoring of the Foradada specimens. We thank our colleagues at the NeanderArt conference (celebrated in August 2018 in Torino, Italy) for their feedback. L.A.C. would like to thank the team, especially J. Yravedra, for their support and help with the studies. We thank D. Wiist for providing information about the National Eagle Repository and A. Majkic and F. d’Errico for the information about the talons of Grotte du Renne unpublished yet by Julien et al. [L’industrie osseuse Chatelperronienne de la Grotte du Renne, (Arcy-sur-Cure). Suplémmet a Paléo]. Last, we thank the editor, associate editor, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, which helped us to improve the manuscript. Funding: This research was financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (HAR2017-86509-P) (MICINN-FEDER PGC2018-093925-B-C32) and Generalitat de Catalunya through 2017 SGR 1040 supported within the framework of CERCA Programme/Generalitat de Catalunya, and 2017 SGR 00011 and CLT009/18/00024 projects (the last two directed by J.-M.F. as the principal investigator). The research work of A.R.-H. was financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (FJCI-2015-24144, Subprograma Juan de la Cierva) and CGL2015-65387-C3-1-P (MINECO/FEDER). The research of J.I.M. was financed by the Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación (IJCI-2017-31445) MICINN fellowship. The research of G.G.-A. was financed by the Universitat de Barcelona APIF 2018 fellowship. The research work of J.L.F.-M. was financed by FPI program of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness MINECO/FSE (BES-2015-074931). The research work of J.-M.T. was funded by CNRS UMR 7041 ArScAn équipe Ethnologie préhistorique (P. Bodu). J.M. is the beneficiary of an Erasmus Mundus Doctorate scholarship for an International Doctorate in Quarternary and Prehistory (IDQP). Author contributions: A.R.-H., J.I.M., G.G.-A., L.A.C., J.L.F.-M., and J.-M.T. wrote the paper. A.R.-H., J.I.M., L.A.C., P.S., and J.M. analyzed data. A.R.-H. designed and performed research. J.I.M. and A.C. directed the field works. A.R.-H., J.L.F.-M., and M.S. performed graphics, and L.A.C. edited the English text as a native speaker. J.-M.F. directed the project. All authors have read, corrected, and approved the manuscript. Competing interests: The authors declare that they have no competing interests. Data and materials availability: All necessary permits were obtained from the Departament de Cultura of the Generalitat de Catalunya and local authorities for the excavation of the Cova Foradada under the direction of A.C., J.-H.M., and J.-M.F. and for the described study, which complied with all relevant regulations. The unique identification numbers (IDs) of the specimens analyzed in this paper are in Table 2. The Cova Foradada specimens are temporary housed at the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Human i Evolució Social, in the Collections Room (Tarragona, Spain), with the permission of the Departament de Cultura of the Generalitat de Catalunya. The specimens are available to any researcher to be inspected. The micro-CT scan models are available under request. Virtual 3D models of the complete specimen and the cut-marked area of interest from the FO15/IV1/E6/1339 specimen are provided as SOM Files STL S1 and S2, respectively, available from MorphoSource (www.morphosource.org) www.morphosource.org/Detail/SpecimenDetail/Show/specimen_id/23751.

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