Did Neanderthals Wear Jewellery?

neanderthal-jewlryWe’ve already had the paleo diet, but could paleo jewellery be the next big hipster trend? A team from the University of York has found that Neanderthals crafted necklaces and other items of jewellery using animal teeth, shells and ivory. Such behaviour was previously thought to be exclusive to humans.

In the late 1940s a large collection of hominin remains were found surrounded by intricate body ornaments and jewellery in the Grotte du Renne in Arcy-sur-Cure, central France. Over the intervening decades, debate has raged among palaeontologists as to whether Neanderthals would have been capable of the complex, symbolic thought processes required to produce such decorative items.

Now, by analysing the proteins of some of the previously unidentified hominin specimens, the researchers from York were able to determine the remains most likely belonged to a Neanderthal infant. And radio carbon dating shows that the sample is around 42,000 years old. This puts it near the end of the Pleistocene epoch, which ranged from 1.8 million to around 11,000 years ago – a perfect match for the date of the artifacts which can now be assumed to have indeed been the work of Neanderthal jewellerymakers.

As interesting as that is, it’s perhaps the protein analysis technique involved that’s the real story here. “For the first time, this research demonstrates the effectiveness of recent developments in ancient protein amino acid analysis and radiocarbon dating to discriminate between Late Pleistocene clades,” said researcher Matthew Collins. “These methods open up new avenues of research into contexts where hominin remains are scarce and where the biological nature of remains is unclear due to DNA not being preserved. This is of direct relevance to our understanding of hominin evolution.”