Heavy Brows, High Art; March 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by Charles Q. Choi; 2 Page(s)
Newly discovered painted scallops and cockleshells in Spain are the first hard evidence that Neandertals made jewelry. These findings suggest humanity’s closest extinct relatives might have been capable of symbolism after all.
Body ornaments made of painted and pierced seashells dating back 70,000 to 120,000 years have been found in Africa and the Near East for decades, and they serve as signs of symbolic thought among the earliest modern humans. The absence of similar finds in Europe at that time, when it was Neandertal territory, has supported the notion that our early relatives lacked symbolism, a potential sign of mental inferiority that might help explain why Homo sapiens eventually replaced them. Although hints of Neandertal art and jewelry have cropped up, such as pierced and grooved animal-tooth pendants, they have often been shrugged off as artifacts mixed in from modern humans or as imitation without understanding.