A Neanderthal find from 51,000 years ago is another piece in the puzzle of the origin of abstract human thinking:
At one time, scientists believed that only some groups of humans possessed the ability to think symbolically. Neanderthals were held to be an example of humans who could not do so. But more recently, as George Dvorsky tells us at Gizmodo, a 2019 finding at the Unicorn Cave in the Harz Mountains in central Germany challenges that belief:
“Patterns deliberately etched onto a bone belonging to a giant deer are signs that Neanderthals possessed the capacity for symbolic thought.
“Neanderthals decorated themselves with feathers, drew cave paintings, and created jewelry from eagle talons, so it comes as little surprise to learn that Neanderthals also engraved patterns onto bone. The discovery of this 51,000-year-old bone carving, as described in Nature Ecology & Evolution, is more evidence of sophisticated behavior among Neanderthals. – George Dvorsky, “51,000-year-old Bone Carving Suggests Neanderthals Were True Artists” At Gizmodo”
According to Smithsonian Magazine, “The carvings include angled lines that form a pattern, clearly made intentionally rather than as a result of butchering the animal.News, “New find pushes symbolic thinking further back in human history” at Mind Matters News
Takehome: The incisions on the bone could be a message or a charm but in any event they are instances of abstract thinking.
See also: Death: Child grave from 80,000 years ago shows abstract thinking. The lovingly prepared site on the Kenyan coast held the remains of a 2–3 year-old child. Perhaps the snail shell with the excisions gave an identity to “Mtoto” — a message to another world, perhaps, about who the child was.