Scientists are finding earlier discoveries of works of art could change what we know about the cognitive abilities of our ancestors, our ancient human relatives, such as Neanderthals.
The “Unicorn Cave” in Germany has been famous for centuries for the countless bones found there. In the Middle Ages, our ancestors still believed that bones came from unicorns, writes A Live sciences.
Bones from a far away land
But a few years ago, archaeologists discovered something unusual there: the toe bone of a huge deer. This was of great importance because although giant deer were once the prey of ancient European hunters, the animals typically lived further north, suggesting they were brought to the cave from far away.
“The carved bones from Einhornhühle are at least 50,000 years old, making them one of the oldest known symbolic objects,” said archaeologist Dirk Lederer. “We have no knowledge of the meaning of the symbolism, but it is possible that the tool was used by our ancestors to communicate with other members of the group, strangers, spirits or the like,” he said.
Whatever the case, the bone is one of those finds that fights for the title of “the oldest artifact in the world.”
Drawings and pendants
In the past decade, experts have found more and more evidence that artistic expression actually appeared in human evolution much earlier than scientists previously thought. This reshapes our understanding of the cognitive abilities of ancient humans such as Neanderthals and early hominins. We now know that Neanderthals made abstract cave drawings long before Homo sapiens arrived in Europe. Furthermore, our ancestors may have created pendants from eagle talons as early as 130,000 years ago.
But some researchers are more cautious about these objects and publications. Many people believe that the carved bone found in the Unicorn Cave cannot be considered a work of art. Therefore, it is more appropriate to use the term “pre-art works,” which scholars use to describe very early forms of artistic expression.
They may be more advanced than we think
Archaeologists previously believed that Homo sapiens were the first to be intellectually advanced enough to create, use and appreciate art, which at the time probably had mostly symbolic significance.
However, recently discovered discoveries prove that hominins, such as Neanderthals, did indeed have a primitive artistic sense. It is also possible that the works of art were far more impressive than the carved bones and pendants that paid tribute to the work of their hands, but were lost and destroyed throughout history.
This may be due to the fact that most Neanderthal artifacts were made of non-durable materials, for example, most of them were made of wood or animal skins.
But remember, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” as American paleontologist Bruce Hardy pointed out.
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