Italy has ruled the fashion world for longer than we thought. That, at least, is the claim of archaeologists who say they have evidence that Neanderthals were using feathers as ornaments 44,000 years ago. The tenuous claim adds fuel to the debate over whether our distant cousins were simple brutes or as cultured as Homo sapiens.
Marco Peresani at the University of Ferrara in Italy found 660 bird bones mixed in with Neanderthal bones in Fumane cave in northern Italy. Many of the wing bones were cut and scraped where the flight feathers were once attached, suggesting the feathers had been systematically removed.
Just like the shells which Neanderthals may have worn as jewellery, Peresani thinks the feathers were used as ornaments. He dismisses other explanations on the grounds that many of the species are poor food sources and fletched arrows had not been invented at the time. João Zilhão at the University of Barcelona in Spain says it is more evidence that Neanderthals were as cultured as H. sapiens. On the other hand, Thomas Higham at the University of Oxford says Peresani has pushed his data too far.
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