Pigment-stained seashells, likely worn as necklaces by Neanderthals, suggest these early Europeans were not only stylish, but that they were also just as smart and crafty as humans in Africa were, according to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The colorful mollusk shells, which date to 50,000 years ago, were recently found in Murcia Province, Spain. Since the shells were painted 10,000 years before modern humans are believed to have settled in Europe, this leaves little doubt that Neanderthals made the still eye-catching pieces.
Humans in Africa at the time created comparable objects, so lead author Joao Zilhao and his team believe both groups of hominids were on equal intellectual footing.
Neanderthal "intelligence was no different from ours," Zilhao, a professor of paleolithic archaeology at the University of Bristol, told Discovery News.
"Their societies had the same kind of band level organization documented among contemporary hunter-gatherers and inferred from prehistoric ones," he added.
Although most of the stained shells were perforated, the researchers think the holes occurred naturally, and that Neanderthals preferentially gathered the necklace-ready objects on nearby beaches.
A paint cup and ground up coloring agents were also found near the stained shells. One particularly well-preserved shell had a natural red coloration on one side while its reverse was painted with an orange pigment made out of the minerals goethite and hematite.