A symbolic Neanderthal accumulation of large herbivore crania

Baquedano, E., Arsuaga, J.L., Pérez-González, A., Laplana, C., Márquez, B., Huguet, R., Gómez-Soler, S., Villaescusa, L., Galindo-Pellicena, M.Á., Rodríguez, L., García-González, R., Ortega, M.C., Martín-Perea, D.M., Ortega, A.I., Hernández-Vivanco, L., Ruiz-Liso, G., Gómez-Hernanz, J., Alonso-Martín, J.I., Abrunhosa, A., Moclán, A., Casado, A.I., Vegara-Riquelme, M., Álvarez-Fernández, A., Domínguez-García, Á.C., Álvarez-Lao, D.J., García, N., Sevilla, P., Blain, H.-A., Ruiz-Zapata, B., Gil-García, M.J., Álvarez-Vena, A., Sanz, T., Quam, R., Higham, T., 2023. A symbolic Neanderthal accumulation of large herbivore crania. Nature Human Behaviour.

This work examines the possible behaviour of Neanderthal groups at the Cueva Des-Cubierta (central Spain) via the analysis of the latter’s archaeological assemblage. Alongside evidence of Mousterian lithic industry, Level 3 of the cave infill was found to contain an assemblage of mammalian bone remains dominated by the crania of large ungulates, some associated with small hearths. The scarcity of post-cranial elements, teeth, mandibles and maxillae, along with evidence of anthropogenic modification of the crania (cut and percussion marks), indicates that the carcasses of the corresponding animals were initially processed outside the cave, and the crania were later brought inside. A second round of processing then took place, possibly related to the removal of the brain. The continued presence of crania throughout Level 3 indicates that this behaviour was recurrent during this level’s formation. This behaviour seems to have no subsistence-related purpose but to be more symbolic in its intent.

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