Presumed symbolic use of diurnal raptors by Neanderthals

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32856. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032856. Epub 2012 Mar 5.


In Africa and western Eurasia, occurrences of burials and utilized ocher fragments during the late Middle and early Late Pleistocene are often considered evidence for the emergence of symbolically-mediated behavior. Perhaps less controversial for the study of human cognitive evolution are finds of marine shell beads and complex designs on organic and mineral artifacts in early modern human (EMH) assemblages conservatively dated to ≈ 100-60 kilo-years (ka) ago. Here we show that, in France, Neanderthals used skeletal parts of large diurnal raptors presumably for symbolic purposes at Combe-Grenal in a layer dated to marine isotope stage (MIS) 5b (≈ 90 ka) and at Les Fieux in stratigraphic units dated to the early/middle phase of MIS 3 (60-40 ka). The presence of similar objects in other Middle Paleolithic contexts in France and Italy suggest that raptors were used as means of symbolic expression by Neanderthals in these regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archaeology
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Bone and Bones
  • Humans
  • Neanderthals*
  • Raptors* / anatomy & histology