A new study published this month suggests Neanderthals were more "cognitively advanced than we give them credit," Kansas University's David Frayer said in a release.
Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology, was a part of the study published in the journal PLOS ONE that looks at eagle talons found in present-day Croatia.
The talons are among the thousands of human remains, animal bones and tools originally excavated between 1899 and 1905 in the area by Croatian scientist Dragutin Gorjanovic-Kramberger.
Only recently, however, did Frayer identify the cut marks and notches on the 130,000-year-old bones as ones modified by humans.
"I was stunned," Frayer said of the discovery. "It's so obvious that these are cut."
The markings, including polishes and areas where the bones were "rubbed together," show that the talons were "manipulated into a piece of jewelry," Frayer said.
Frayer co-wrote "Evidence for Neanderthal Jewelry: Modified White-tailed Eagle Claws at Krapina" with three other Croatian scientists.
Their research indicates Neanderthals were more than just the cavemen-like characters depicted in Geico commercials, but sophisticated creatures concerned with ornamentation and possibly even an "advanced level of prowess" in catching birds, according to Frayer.
"We can't prove it, but we suspect that they were catching these birds," he said.
Even with modern technology, catching an eagle is an enormously difficult thing to do. Frayer believes Neanderthals must have had excellent "planning skills and ritual" they would've used in catching the bird.
"Neanderthals are often thought of to be simple-minded mumbling, bumbling, stumbling fools," Frayer said. "But the more we know about them the more sophisticated they've become."