Is a Neanderthal's Carving the Oldest Art in the World?

Researchers say the bone fragment shows capacity for symbolism
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2021 3:53 PM CDT
51,000 Year-Old Carving Might Be Neanderthal Art
A reconstruction of a Homo neanderthalensis, a Neanderthal, at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany.   (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

A tiny object with no practical use has researchers all worked up. It’s a fragment of bone 2 inches long with deep marks carved into it found in a Neanderthal cave, and it might be the world’s oldest piece of art. The bone, thought to be 51,000 years old, came from a giant ice age deer, an animal that would have been rare at that time in the Harz Mountains of Germany where it was found, NBC News reports. The cave where it was found along with some deer shoulder blades and the skull of a cave bear, is called the Einhornhöhle, or Unicorn Cave. The cave, where Neanderthals once lived, is so well-known that it’s a tourist destination.

The bone fragment can be arranged to stand upright. It has deep upside-down V shapes carved into it—so deep researchers think that it was probably boiled to soften it for carving. Researchers think the pattern had a symbolic meaning. And its age, well before Homo Sapiens’ arrival in that part of Europe, suggests that the Neanderthal artist came by the idea for the carving without any human help. Scientists have been debating whether Neanderthals used symbols and made art. This piece makes "Neanderthal’s awareness of symbolic meaning very likely," Dirk Leder wrote in Nature Ecology & Evolution. (More science stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.