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Neanderthals Wore Theropod Feathers



From: Ben Creisler
bcreisler@gmail.com

The old shlock movie/comic book mashup about club-toting, heavy-browed
Neanderthal cavemen taking on theropod dinosaurs has some factual
basis it appears--provided they were avian theropods. New in PLoS ONE:

Finlayson C, Brown K, Blasco R, Rosell J, Negro JJ, et al. (2012)
Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids.
PLoS ONE 7(9): e45927.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045927
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0045927

The hypothesis that Neanderthals exploited birds for the use of their
feathers or claws as personal ornaments in symbolic behaviour is
revolutionary as it assigns unprecedented cognitive abilities to these
hominins. This inference, however, is based on modest faunal samples
and thus may not represent a regular or systematic behaviour. Here we
address this issue by looking for evidence of such behaviour across a
large temporal and geographical framework. Our analyses try to answer
four main questions: 1) does a Neanderthal to raptor-corvid connection
exist at a large scale, thus avoiding associations that might be
regarded as local in space or time?; 2) did Middle (associated with
Neanderthals) and Upper Palaeolithic (associated with modern humans)
sites contain a greater range of these species than Late Pleistocene
paleontological sites?; 3) is there a taphonomic association between
Neanderthals and corvids-raptors at Middle Palaeolithic sites on
Gibraltar, specifically Gorham's, Vanguard and Ibex Caves? and; 4) was
the extraction of wing feathers a local phenomenon exclusive to the
Neanderthals at these sites or was it a geographically wider
phenomenon?. We compiled a database of 1699 Pleistocene Palearctic
sites based on fossil bird sites. We also compiled a taphonomical
database from the Middle Palaeolithic assemblages of Gibraltar. We
establish a clear, previously unknown and widespread, association
between Neanderthals, raptors and corvids. We show that the
association involved the direct intervention of Neanderthals on the
bones of these birds, which we interpret as evidence of extraction of
large flight feathers. The large number of bones, the variety of
species processed and the different temporal periods when the
behaviour is observed, indicate that this was a systematic,
geographically and temporally broad, activity that the Neanderthals
undertook. Our results, providing clear evidence that Neanderthal
cognitive capacities were comparable to those of Modern Humans,
constitute a major advance in the study of human evolution.