Copper Age owl-shaped plaques may be toys, researchers suggest

Thousands of engraved owl-shaped plaques have been discovered in Copper Age tombs and pits throughout the Iberian Peninsula.

Generally 5,500-4,750 years old, the characteristic slate plaques feature two engraved circles as eyes and the semblance of a feathered body below.

They have been considered to have some ritual significance, but a new study led by Juan Negro from the Estación Biológica de Doñana and published in Scientific Reports ( offers a new interpretation: could they have been created by children as toys, dolls, or amulets?

IMAGE: Juan J Negro

The researchers looked at 100 plaques to assess how many owl features they included, and compared them to 100 modern drawings of owls by children, finding similarities between the two sets. Older children produced the more accurate drawings, and this might likewise explain the range of skills reflected in the plaques.

They also suggest that two small holes in many of the plaques, which lack the signs of wear expected if hung from a cord, may have been used to hold feathers in order to recreate the tufts on the heads of some owls, like the long-eared owl, as seen in the replica.