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Stone bracelet is oldest ever found in the world

By Anna Liesowska
07 May 2015

Dating back 40,000 years to the Denisovan species of early humans, new pictures show beauty and craftsmanship of prehistoric jewellery.

While bracelets have been found pre-dating this discovery, Russian experts say this is the oldest known jewellery of its kind made of stone. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

It is intricately made with polished green stone and is thought to have adorned a very important woman or child on only special occasions. Yet this is no modern-day fashion accessory and is instead believed to be the oldest stone bracelet in the world, dating to as long ago as 40,000 years.

Unearthed in the Altai region of Siberia in 2008, after detailed analysis Russian experts now accept its remarkable age as correct. 

New pictures show this ancient piece of jewellery in its full glory with scientists concluding it was made by our prehistoric human ancestors, the Denisovans, and shows them to have been far more advanced than ever realised.

'The bracelet is stunning - in bright sunlight it reflects the sun rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green,' said Anatoly Derevyanko, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Denisovan bracelet


Denisovan bracelet

Made of chlorite, the bracelet was found in the same layer as the remains of some of the prehistoric people and is thought to belong to them. Pictures: Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov

'It is unlikely it was used as an everyday jewellery piece. I believe this beautiful and very fragile bracelet was worn only for some exceptional moments.'

The bracelet was found inside the famous Denisova Cave, in the Altai Mountains, which is renowned for its palaeontological finds dating back to the Denisovans, who were known as homo altaiensis, an extinct species of humans genetically distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans.

Made of chlorite, the bracelet was found in the same layer as the remains of some of the prehistoric people and is thought to belong to them.

What made the discovery especially striking was that the manufacturing technology is more common to a much later period, such as the Neolithic era. Indeed, it is not clear yet how the Denisovans could have made the bracelet with such skill.

Denisovan bracelet


Denisovan bracelet

New pictures show this ancient piece of jewellery in its full glory with scientists concluding it was made by our prehistoric human ancestors. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

Writing in the Novosibirsk magazine, Science First Hand, Dr Derevyanko said: 'There were found two fragments of the bracelet of a width of 2.7cm and a thickness of 0.9 cm. The estimated diameter of the find was 7cm. Near one of the cracks was a drilled hole with a diameter of about 0.8 cm. Studying them, scientists found out that the speed of rotation of the drill was rather high, fluctuations minimal, and that was there was applied drilling with an implement - technology that is common for more recent times.

Denisovan bracelet


Typical Neolithic bracelet

Traces of the use of drilling with an implement on the bracelet from Denisova Cave. Polished stone bracelet of Neolithic era. Pictures: Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov, Vera Salnitskaya

'The ancient master was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as drilling with an implement, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning.'

Chlorite was not found in the vicinity of the cave and is thought to have come from a distance of at least 200km, showing how valued the material was at the time.

Dr Derevyanko said the bracelet had suffered damage, including visible scratches and bumps although it looked as if some of the scratches had been sanded down. Experts also believe that the piece of jewellery had other adornments to make it more beautiful.

'Next to the hole on the outer surface of the bracelet can be seen clearly a limited polished zone of intensive contact with some soft organic material,' said Dr Derevyanko. 'Scientists have suggested that it was a leather strap with some charm, and this charm was rather heavy. The location of the polished section made it possible to identify the 'top' and 'bottom' of the bracelet and to establish that it was worn on the right hand.'

Denisovan bracelet


Denisovan bracelet

Polished zone of intensive contact with some soft organic material. General reconstruction of the view of the bracelet and compraison with the moders bracelet. Pictures: Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov, Anastasia Abdulmanova

Located next to the Anuy River, about 150 km south of Barnaul, the Denisova Cave is a popular tourist attraction, such is its paleontological importance. Over the years a number of remains have been found there, including some of extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth. In total evidence of 66 different types of mammals have been discovered inside, and 50 bird species.

The most exciting discovery was the remains of the Denisovans, a species of early humans that dated back as early as 600,000 years ago and were different to both Neanderthals and modern man.

In 2000 a tooth from a young adult was found in the cave and in 2008, when the bracelet was found, archaeologists discovered the finger bone of a juvenile Denisovan hominin, whom they dubbed the 'X woman'. Further examination of the site found other artifacts dating as far back as 125,000 years.

The institute's deputy director Mikhail Shunkov suggested that the find indicates the Denisovans - though now extinct - were more advanced than Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

Denisovan bracelet


Denisovan bracelet

The traces of reparation on the cracks. Bracelet had suffered damage, including visible scratches and bumps. Pictures: Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov

'In the same layer, where we found a Denisovan bone, were found interesting things; until then it was believed these the hallmark of the emergence of Homo sapiens,' he said. 'First of all, there were symbolic items, such as jewellery - including the stone bracelet as well as a ring, carved out of marble.'

The full details of the ring are yet to be revealed. 

'These finds were made using technological methods - boring stone, drilling with an implement, grinding - that are traditionally considered typical for a later time, and nowhere in the world they were used so early, in the Paleolithic era. At first, we connected the finds with a progressive form of modern human, and now it turned out that this was fundamentally wrong. Obviously it was  Denisovans, who left these things.'

This indicated that 'the most progressive of the triad' (Homo sapiens, Homo Neanderthals and Denisovans) were Denisovans, who according to their genetic and morphological characters were much more archaic than Neanderthals and modern human.' 

Denisova Cave, Altai Mountains


Denisova Cave, Altai Mountains

The entrance to the Denisova cave and the archaeological excavations inside. Pictures: The Siberian Times

But could this modern-looking bracelet have been buried with older remains?

The experts considered this possibility but rejected it, saying they believe the layers were uncontaminated by human interference from a later period. The soil around the bracelet was also dated using oxygen isotopic analysis.

The unique bracelet is now held in the Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East in Novosibirsk. Irina Salnikova, head the museum, said of the bracelet: 'I love this find. The skills of its creator were perfect. Initially we thought that it was made by Neanderthals or modern humans, but it turned out that the master was Denisovan, at least in our opinion.

Irina Salnikova

 Irina Salnikova, head the Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East in Novosibirsk. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

'All jewellery had a magical meaning for ancient people and even for us, though we do not always notice this. Bracelets and neck adornments were to protect people from evil spirits, for instance. This item, given the complicated technology and 'imported' material, obviously belonged to some high ranked person of that society.'

While bracelets have been found pre-dating this discovery, Russian experts say this is the oldest known jewellery of its kind made of stone.

Comments (47)

Chlorite is an incredibly soft stone : 2-2,5 on Moh's scale. To give that some perspective : Gypsum is 2, Calcite is 3, Quarz is 7 and Diamond is 10. The image suggests some sort of Jadeite which is very tough, hard and difficult to work. Calcite on the other hand could be worked extremely easily, and drilling it would be an intellectual feat rather than a technological feat.
Jacky , Cape Town/South Africa
09/05/2015 19:51
23
0
The Denisovan specimen has Australopithecine teeth: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7327/fig_tab/nature09710_F4.html The tiny finger bone isn't from a juvenile, they were a sub-pygmy species, descended from the Australopithecine-Erectus hybrids at Dmanisi. Homo floresiensis from Indonesia is a Denisovan with Homo sapiens interbreeding. These are the "little people" in European oral history, and their pixie features, pointed ears, short stature, and low IQ are among us today. The Denisovans were far too primitive to make this bracelet, and their wrists too small to wear it. If it really is 40,000 years old, it was produced by the (partly mixed) Cro-Magnons known to have been in Siberia at that time, or passed by trade from the center of the Cro-Magnon cultural revolution in Western Europe. If it really is associated with Denisova-species remains, this is because, like those leprechauns with their pots of gold, they liked to steal shiny things from the big people.
Katrina, USA
09/05/2015 17:46
4
34
Denisovan genes are found in w pacific island people who also have a history of working jade and other hard stones to a fine finish. It's a long shot but maybe some cool history there.
Bill, Albion USA
09/05/2015 13:10
12
3
With finds of new DNA inhabiting elongated skulls species of man found in Cuzco and Paracas areas of Peru, it shouldnt surprise us that human-type development is older - or more different- than supposed. With the evidentiary record of continent of Atlantis having been engulfed by a massive (presumably) cometary/asteroid impact and geological records of global cataclysms that likely wiped early man nearly to extinction, vestiges of our skills from long past likely survived to appear so innovative - pyramids, sculptures etc.- not possible even with modern tools!
Richard Knowles, B.Sc., West Vancouver, Canada
09/05/2015 07:43
12
13
Ok, trade is not an impossible explanation for the place of the finding. However it requires the further hypothesis that the maker was another group somewhere else. Under these hypotheses we should presume that the "real makers" would have kept most of of their products for themselves? However it's clear that those are nowhere to be seen
@Laura K (Jose), Mexico
09/05/2015 03:41
5
2
Fascinating to see such an item from as far back as 40,000 years ago. This does imply considerable skill back at that date but with the low frequency of finds we should remember that Denisovans having this skill doesn't rule out others from having it. I doubt frankly that the Denisovans alone had these skills for while there are differences between the three species, the are some who argue they are all the same species. The genetic differences are not large (as evinced by the ability to interbreed sucessfully) and so I would suggest the capabilities would be similar. Nevertheless such advanced work implies not just the skill involved but the means to pass that on to others and a level of social organisation that allows time for this type of object to be sourced and made. Whether it is a symbolic item or even a status symbol, it also implies a developed culture and the concept of possession or at least keeping material goods that are not simply practical.
Alex Taylor, London UK
09/05/2015 02:28
21
4
All I can add is a jaw-dropping WOW.
Mary Lu Duffy, Fairhope, AL USA
08/05/2015 13:44
17
10
Having contemplated the prospect of modern "man" evolving millions of years ago, it seems improbable. It is more likely "we" develop time travel sometime in the future, and send people back into the past to try and alter our species suicidal trajectory. I postulate that "they" arrive at an earlier point without memories, as nothing they have ever done has happened yet. Subsequently, a modern man awakens 1.2 million years ago with no memory, breeds with a monkey, makes fire, carves a wheel and and leaves a footprint... Because it is what we do.
ohmslice, San Diego Californiacation
08/05/2015 11:21
7
39
I think the easel drill is what we would call in English a 'pump drill'. Fantastic find!
Laura K, Baltimore, MD, USA
08/05/2015 10:04
11
0
It is possible they got it in trade. Trade route were far more extensive than people want to believe. Thank you
Judith Jones, Spokane, Washington, USA
08/05/2015 07:07
13
7
I was disappointed that the article did not mention that Denisovan man's DNA continues, especially among aboriginal melanesian tribesmen in New Guinea - something like 7% of their DNA is Denisovan. Other modern humans also have Denisovan DNA, but at lower levels. Modern humans also have some Neanderthal DNA. This suggests that all three strains of humanity experienced some level of interbreeding - a huge finding. If the Denisovans were, as the article suggests, more advanced than contemporary Cro-Magon man, then that inbreeding may have helped lead to the rise of the neolithic ages.
Ned Barnett, Las Vegas, Nevada USA
08/05/2015 03:06
57
0
Marvelous article! I'm particularly impressed by the detailed explanation of the repairs made to the bracelet; clearly this was considered to be an object of great worth. I have to wonder how it came to be abandoned and broken; if this wasn't part of a burial, it had to be due to a catastrophe, as such beautiful and unique stone would likely have been reused and ground down into beads or other adornments had the chance to do so been there.
Suzanne Barnes, Tucson, Arizona, U.S.
08/05/2015 02:50
21
1
Google and YouTube both yielded nothing regarding easel drilling. Bow drilling I can imagine/picture. BTW, the quote that 'All jewelry had a magical meaning for ancient people and even for us, though we do not always notice this. Bracelets and neck adornments were to protect people from evil spirits.' isn't archaeology, it's supposition. You can no more know the intent behind an object like this make 40K years ago than you can know the name of the person making it!
James, Baltimore, MD, USA
08/05/2015 02:42
26
3
NASA has photographed a man made bridge from space that is 1.7 million years old... could it be that others occupied this planet before man-kinds ascension. but were destroyed in some cataclysmic event. Or just left.
robert clayton, Olympia, Wa.. U.S.A.
08/05/2015 00:50
21
25
Chris Green, 'easel drilling' is rather strange term indeed, used by Russian archaeologists to explain the process, when the master drilled the stone not only by rotating the drill bit in his hand, but using some device, in some cases it was a bow (the drill bit was fixed in a bowstring and the master rotated the bow), it gave greater effect than simple manual drilling. In this very case archaeologists do not know exactly what kind of device was used to rotate the drill bit, but judging by the traces on the stone something was definitely used.
Anna , Siberia
07/05/2015 23:17
15
0

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