Researchers found an engraved deer bone that is about 51,000 years old in northern Germany, which they believe might be among the oldest pieces of reliably dated art.
A study put out on Monday by researchers with Nature Ecology & Evolution noted that evidence of art and symbolic behavior has been largely absent among Neanderthals, but the approximation of the age of the prehistoric deer phalanx would place the piece in a Middle Paleolithic context that is linked to Neanderthals.
The bone features inverted V’s in a chevron shape, as reported by NBC.
Researchers say its existence indicates that “conceptual imagination, as a prerequisite to compose individual lines into a coherent design, was present in Neanderthals,” suggesting an awareness of symbolic meaning.
The bone was discovered at the entrance to a former cave northern Germany called Einhornhöhle, which is also known as the “Unicorn Cave.”
Dirk Leder, one of the researchers involved who works with the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage, told NBC News that the bone was found alongside shoulder blade bones of a deer and a bear skull, which he said could indicate some sort of ritualistic meaning.
Radiocarbon dating was used to estimate the age of the bone and researchers told NBC that while other examples of ancient art have been approximated back to the same era, this is the first time an object has reliably been dated.