In 2013 a study on Neanderthal skulls revealed that their eyesight may have been better than modern humans do to the large eye sockets and larger areas of the Neanderthal brain devoted to vision. Researchers estimate that the Neanderthals had an brain size of around 1600 cm which is larger than the average modern human at around 1350 cm. Now comes a new study out today regarding possible cognitive abilities in Neanderthals.
The cognitive abilities have been and still are hotly debated in paleoanthropology circles and, frankly, we aren’t real sure why Neanderthals had bigger brains that we do today. In the past the Neanderthals have been painted as the quintessential caveman carrying a club and not to bright in the head but this social myth is changing slowly as we come to realize from the available evidence that this picture of Neanderthals is NOT accurate at all.
There is evidence that they used fire, that they had some sort of social organization, and that they made and used musical instruments and used art. There is also evidence that they may have buried their dead with a concept of some sort of afterlife! Now comes some new evidence involving a decorated raven bone discovered in the Crimea known as “Zaskalnaya VI” that may give us more insight into the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals.
The decorated raven bone features two notches that Neanderthals may have made intentionally to display a visual pattern that is consistent rather than random notches. In other words these notches might have been some sort of pattern to be employed in some other engraving or work of art. Call them “experimental notches” if you will.
The study was carried out by Ana Majkic at the University of Bordeaux and colleagues and published this month in the scientific journal Plos One. They conducted a mixed methods study to assess if the two extra notches on the raven bone were made with intent as a pattern to making the final carving of evenly spaced notches. The pattern, researchers suggest, may have been symbolic.
Several recent discoveries from various Neanderthal sites have been found of altered bird bones. Some researchers believe these objects may have been used for personal adornment. This new study is the first to suggest, however, that such bones were made with intention.
If indeed the Neanderthals made these with intention (and I believe they did) then this shows beyond any doubt that they had a concept of art and an appreciation for artistic beauty and that carries them far, far away from the cave-dwelling brutes we’ve tried to make them out to be in the past. It is becoming more and more evident to me and others that we’ve made some WRONG ASSUMPTIONS about Neanderthals (and likely about other ancient human ancestors as well) that need to be corrected drastically.
Aside from brain size I think their brains were far more wired that we have given the Neanderthals credit for in terms of sophistication. Further, we have believed in the past that these ancient humans went extinct as we modern humans invaded their territories but this assertion is slowly turning out NOT to be the case. As I blogged about yesterday there are plenty of Neanderthal-Modern Human HYBRID remains! We mods didn’t “replace” anything! We interbred with them and “assimilated” them!