The Einhornhöhle (Unicorn Cave), Blaue Grotto.COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Germany’s Einhornhöhle, or Unicorn Cave, in the Harz Mountains got its name from the treasure hunters who thought fossilized remains in the dark passages belonged to unicorns. Archaeologists digging at the site recently found something almost as unlikely: a 50,000-year-old deer bone with a geometric pattern carved by Neanderthals. The discovery, reported on Monday by a team of researchers from the University of Göttingen and the Lower Saxony State Office for Heritage, adds to a growing body of evidence that Neanderthals created symbolic objects—perhaps what we would call art.
Artifacts found at Unicorn Cave in the 1980s proved the site was actually a hideout for Neanderthals during the Middle Paleolithic period (roughly 300,000 to 30,000 years ago). A German team of archaeologists revisited the cave in 2014 for new excavations, and, in 2019, while investigating the untouched layers of Ice Age soil buried there, they found well-preserved animal bones with cut-marks. Among them was the toe bone of a prehistoric (and now extinct) giant deer.