Happiness

‘Sacred’ owl carvings from Copper Age may actually be children’s toys

An ancient slate carving of an owl next to a photograph of a little owl (Athene noctua). (Image credit: Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla, Spain and Juan J. Negro)

Thousands of years ago, children from the Iberian Peninsula carved pieces of slate into the shape of owls, creating palm-sized toys to play with, a new study suggests. Originally, archaeologists thought the cartoonlike figures were sacred objects representing deities, used only in rituals. But a new study reveals that they also could have served as children’s toys or amulets.

To investigate, researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) examined 100 of the approximately 4,000 engraved slate owl plaques that have been collected over the years at tomb and pit sites scattered throughout the peninsula. All of the carvings dated to the Copper Age (3500 B.C. to 2750 B.C.) and were rated for how many owlish features they had, including two circles for the owl’s large frontal eyes, etchings of a beak, wings, plummage and other noticeable characteristics of the birds of prey. Each piece also contained two small perforations at the top, which researchers think could have been used to weave in actual bird feathers.

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