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Feather ornaments used by Neanderthals?

FERRARA, Italy, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- New evidence has been put forward in the debate over whether our distant Neanderthal cousins were simple brutes or as cultured as Homo sapiens, researchers say.

An Italian archaeologist says he's found evidence Neanderthals were using feathers as ornaments 44,000 years ago, NewScientist.com reported Monday.

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Marco Peresani at the University of Ferrara says he has discovered 660 bird bones mixed in with Neanderthal bones in a cave in northern Italy, and the bird wing bones had been cut and scraped where the large flight feathers would have been attached, suggesting the feathers had been purposefully removed.

Like shells in other finds that suggest Neanderthals may have worn them as jewelry, Peresani thinks the feathers were used as ornaments.

He dismisses other explanations, saying many of the bird species whose bones were found are poor food sources, and arrows fletched with feathers had not been invented at the time.

The debate over Neanderthals is ongoing, with Joao Zilhao at the University of Barcelona in Spain saying Peresani's finding are more evidence that Neanderthals were as cultured as H. sapiens, while Thomas Higham at the University of Oxford says Peresani has pushed his data too far.

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