130,000 years ago, Neanderthals cut talons from the legs of the fierce white-tailed eagle, polished and burnished them, and may have worn them as jewelry.
The team of researchers (led by Davorka Radovcic) are not the first to discover talons that were kept and modified by Neanderthals (see also Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids). However, this is the largest and clearest collection of modified talons, and many of the talons have groove marks that suggest they were strung together in a necklace or jewelry arrangement.
This adds further compelling evidence to a picture of Neanderthals as culturally complex beings, with art, stories, cave paintings, jewelry, and more.
Did Neanderthals, then watching the stars, "take grace and inspiration to explore the plan of heaven and earth?" Or did abstract thought and curiosity indeed awaken only in the "fifty-thousand years between the mind Neanderthal's and Shelley's"?
Edgar Lee Masters
"Men of to-day make monstrous war, sleep, sup,
Traffic, build shrines, as earliest history
Records the earliest day, and that the race
Is what it was in virtue, charity,
And nothing better.
But within this face
No light shone from that realm where Hindostan,
Delving in numbers, watching stars took grace
And inspiration to explore the plan
Of heaven and earth.
And of the scheme the test
Is not five thousand years, which leave the van
Just where it was, but this change manifest
In fifty thousand years between the mind
Neanderthal's and Shelley's."
Neanderthals hunted mammoths, bison and other powerful animals for food — yet their fiercest foes may have been the massive eagles they snared to make jewellery. The talons of white-tailed eagles found at a Neanderthal site in Croatia show cut marks and patterns of wear that suggest the claws were donned as personal ornaments. “They’re very powerful birds. It takes a certain amount of bravery and foolishness, even, to catch one of these things,” says David Frayer, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, whose team describes the claws in paper published on 12 March in the journal PLoS ONE.