Back about 51,000 years ago, a Neanderthal decided they would express their artistic soul to work on a piece of deer bone. This individual resided in what’s now known as Northern Germany’s Harz Mountains. Not only did this ancient artist have the capacity to carve a pattern into bone, they knew enough about the physical properties of the bone to use hot water to make its surface soft enough to carve.
A team of archaeologists including Dirk Leder, Thomas Terberger, and others studied this bone on a microscopic level. In their study, they gave further credence to the idea that Neanderthals were far more advanced – far closer to human – than they’ve ever been given credit.
The bone came from a giant deer, a Megaloceros giganteus. This deer has also been referred to as the Irish elk, or Irish deer, and it’s been found in skeletal remains from Ireland all the way to Siberia. At the time this bone is dated, this deer was exceptionally rare in the area of Germany in which it was found.
At the former cave entrance of Einhornhöhle, northern Germany. Einhornhöhle, AKA Unicorn Cave is relatively easy to find today – in its current public entrance, anyway. It’s not the sort of place we would have guessed researchers would find what might be the world’s oldest known work of art.
Per the corresponding research paper’s abstract, the engraved bone “demonstrates that conceptual imagination, as a prerequisite to compose individual lines into a coherent design, was present in Neanderthals.” Given the rarity of the bone and the precious care taken in the carving, researchers suggest that Neanderthal’s awareness of symbolic meaning “is very likely.”
If you would like to know more about this finding, drop in on the research paper released by Nature called “A 51,000-year-old engraved bone reveals Neanderthals’ capacity for symbolic behaviour.” This research was authored by Dirk Leder, Raphael Hermann, Thomas Terberger, et. al. and can be found in Nature Ecology & Evolution 685, published July 5, 2021.
In addition to additional photographs of the bone, this posting includes further datasets on further request as well as a 3D video (as shown above), and a 3D model. The 3D model is made available for free for download under CC-BY-SA 3.0 license in STL format.
You can download this file to look at in your favorite 3D-capable app, analyze, or even 3D print – provided you do the extra little bit of work required to make the file ready to roll for your 3D printer or choice. Let us know how it goes!