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'The Eastern Section of the Great Vasyugan Mire has been nominated for the Unesco World Heritage List'
A.J.Haywood

World's oldest needle found in Siberian cave that stitches together human history

By The Siberian Times reporter
23 August 2016

'Sensational' discovery in Denisova Cave is at least 50,000 years old BUT it wasn't made by Homo sapiens.

The needle is seen as providing proof that the long-gone Denisovans - named after the cave - were more sophisticated than previously believed. Picture: Vesti

The 7 centimetre (2 3/4 inch) needle was made and used by our long extinct Denisovan ancestors, a recently-discovered hominin species or subspecies.

Scientists found the sewing implement - complete with a hole for thread - during the annual summer archeological dig at an Altai Mountains cave widely believed to hold the secrets of man's origins. It appears to be still useable after 50,000 years.

Professor Mikhail Shunkov, head of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, said: 'It is the most unique find of this season, which can even be called sensational.

Denisovans needle

It appears to be still useable after 50,000 years. Picture: Vesti

'It is a needle made of bone. As of today it is the most ancient needle in the word. It is about 50,000 years old.' 

The needle is seen as providing proof that the long-gone Denisovans - named after the cave - were more sophisticated than previously believed. It predates by some 10,000 years an intricate modern-looking piece of polished jewellery made of chlorite by the Denisovans.

It was made of the bone of a large and so far unidentified bird. 

Denisovans needle


Denisovans needle

The 7 centimetre (2 3/4 inch) needle was made and used by our long extinct Denisovan ancestors, a recently-discovered hominin species or subspecies. Pictures: Russia 24, Vesti

Dr Maksim Kozlikin, head of the excavations at Denisova cave, said: 'The length of this needle is 7 centimetres, 6 millimetres. It is the longest needle found in Denisova cave. We have found needles before, but in 'younger' (archeological) layers.' 

The needle rewrites history since the previous oldest such object dates to some 40,000 years ago, according to Russian scientists. It is assumed that the newly-found needle was made by Denisovans, as it was found in the same layer where Denisovan remains were previously found.

Maksim Kozlikin

Dr Maksim Kozlikin, head of the excavations at Denisova cave: 'It is the longest needle found in Denisova cave.' Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

The cave has provided a succession of revelations about ancient man. It was here in 2008 that Siberian scientists discovered a finger bone fragment of 'X woman', a juvenile female believed to have lived around 41,000 years ago. 

Analysis showed she was genetically distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans. In 2010 analysis on an upper molar from a young adult, found in the cave ten years previously, showed the tooth was also from a Denisovan. 

Map


Denisova cave


Denisova cave


Denisova cave

The cave lies in the Altai Mountains around 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of the city of Barnaul. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

Layers of the cave's flooring show that it has been occupied by humans for 282,000 years. Scientists believe that Denisovan remains date back up to 170,000 years ago

The bracelet was discovered in 2008, and scientists have since suggested it showed the Denisovans to be more technologically advanced than Home sapiens or Neanderthals.

Scientists found that a hole had been drilled in part of the bracelet with such precision that it could only have been done with a high-rotation drill similar to those used today.

Mikhail Shunkov

Professor Mikhail Shunkov, head of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, said: 'It is the most unique find of this season, which can even be called sensational.' Picture: IAET SB RAS 

It was also carefully polished and grinded, with a heavy pendant added in the centre, probably hanging from a short leather strap. The cave has also provides evidence of cross-breeding between modern Homo sapiens with both Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Additionally, it has provided proof that early man surged out of Africa some 35,000 years earlier than was assumed by experts. 

'It is the first genetic evidence of modern humans outside Africa,' said Sergi Castellano, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, earlier this year. 

Bracelet


Denisovan bracelet


Denisovan bracelet

The bracelet was carefully polished and grinded, with a heavy pendant added in the centre, probably hanging from a short leather strap. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya, Anastasia Abdulmanova

The cave lies in the Altai Mountains around 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of the city of Barnaul. Prof Shunkov said: 'We can confidently say that Altai was one of the cultural centres... the modern human was formed.'

Scientist Svante Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute, in Leipzig, Germany, has said: 'The one place where we are sure all three human forms have lived at one time or another is here in Denisova Cave.'

The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography is part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

Comments (46)

The Ahtna people of Alaska have a legend of "Men with Tails". These people lived in caves that would have been located just at the edge of Ancient Lake Ahtna, here in Alaska. The exact location is in mountains between Slana and Indian River in the Copper River Valley. The recent elders recall having been taken to visit the mysterious caves in the early 1800s. They were told of these people ("men with tails") by their own ancestors.

Could the Denisovans have been the people of which the legends speak? It's not that far a jump from Siberia to Alaska.
An Alaskan, Alaska USA
04/01/2017 22:01
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Congratulations for your high quality posts. I recommended (Facebook) your site to my students of biology who will teach in primary and secondary schools. The included photos and interviews with local experts and people make the scientific content especially interesting. I was also very glad to see the Denisovian cave itself, the remnants of the mammuth as well as the little guy who found it. Nowhere else I have run into such a collection of exciting material.
Many thanks.
Liz Pásztor, Budapest, Hungary
16/11/2016 16:24
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Suresh Bhave, u really think mankind spread out from Pangea. Wow, that would make bipedal man oh i dont know about 200 million years old. Your beliefs are as off as India's brutal caste system
reale smarts, boston, mass
23/10/2016 11:35
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The arctic archaeology has captured my amateur interest for many years. The many archaelogical finds in the Arctic challenge the ridiculous and politically motivated idea that man spread all over the world from Africa. More likely orgin of man was in the Pangea and mankind spread along with the drifting continents. There was never any reason for man to move out of Africa and if he did move out of Africa, why would he suddenly lose his wanderlust and stay on in inhospitable places like the arctic or Tierra del Fuego? Did he not have sense enough to find more hospitable regions?
Suresh Bhave, Pune, India
04/10/2016 00:48
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It is hard to believe that Indians who could weave cloth could not stitch clothes. Probably they could, but they preferred not to cut cloth into pieces when its beautifully woven length could be artfully wound around the body. Also, the Greek connection with India goes much farther back than Alexander's campaign. Yavan people, or the Ionians, that is the Greeks are mentioned in the Mahabharata, the Great Epic, which in its present form probably appeared in the eighth century BCE. So, if at all Indians needed to learn to use the needle, they could have learnt it much earlier from the Greeks.
Suresh Bhave, Pune, India
04/10/2016 00:41
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I accidentally voted on Donald Reid's comment that suggested Alaska is more sizable than Canada or Russia. What I meant to do was suggest that he look at a map.
This article was fascinating, thanks.
Carmen Douglas, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
22/09/2016 22:36
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Well...no one has an explanation for the "high powered" drill so they left it alone as it brings up more questions than answers...
Phillip Bradbury, Erie Colorado USA
16/09/2016 02:52
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Very good article. One sentence that caught my eye that mysteriously was not commented on is the following.

Scientists found that a hole had been drilled in part of the bracelet with such precision that it could only have been done with a high-rotation drill similar to those used today.

A high speed hand drill? Really ? Would that not be more "sensational" than a sewing needle?
Jim Fritz , Colorado USA
03/09/2016 08:46
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Indians have learnt sewing only after Alexander's arrival.
I feel sewing must have been developed for protection from cold. Even now in some of the Indian temple, persons using stitched clothes are not allowed to enter assuming them to be of different faith. To my information stitched clothes are not allowed during haj of Muslim faith.
Arvind Sinha, India
30/08/2016 13:18
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Other arctic countries: Greenland (Denmark), Norway (including Svalbard), Sweden, Finland.
Mark, NY USA
30/08/2016 05:40
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Would this bone be from a birds wing?
I am wondering how strong the bone is/ was to create something
Such an interesting find.
Jillian Child, Bexhill on sea East Sussex.
29/08/2016 18:30
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I wish to contest Shari C's comment that Russia and Canada own the whole northern part of the Northern Hemisphere. Alaska is a sizable piece of territory.

Quibbles aside the article was fascinating and informative.
Donald Reid, Georgia, USA
28/08/2016 21:26
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To nit pick about the writing of this article is unnecessary. Loved the information.
Shari C., Bloomington/USA
28/08/2016 18:43
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No matter what the Cold War has done to our worldviews, as a Canadian I have always felt a stronger kinship to Russia than to any other country. It's probably that together we own the whole northern part of the Northern Hemisphere and much of our climate and geography is the same. I envy the anthropologists working on this project as I have always been interested in the Altai Mountain area as well as Lake Baikal. It must have been an important 'hide-out' for ancient peoples during the last period of glaciation and I'm certain that this is also the arena where the Mongoloid facial features of 1/4 of the Earth's population evolved.
I would work for 3 "hots" and a "cot" if I had the opportunity to go to this wonderful place. At 62 years of age I am 3/4 of the way into an Anthropology degree and I'm vicariously enjoying the work you people are doing there.
Erik Bosma, Nission, BC, Canada
28/08/2016 05:18
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To the poster who is having a difficult time with the length of the needle. It is plain to see by 'observing' the photos above, it is quite obvious that the needle is a little over 7 cm in length. Also, when converting this length to Imperial units of length one must know the 'standards' that are used in this instance. Observation and Standards. Two important components of Science. Please learn them before you post or your comments will not be taken seriously. An 'Inch' is equal to '2.54 cm.' It would take you about 3 seconds to discover that for yourself if you would have just taken the time to double-check your facts (another important component of science).
Erik Bosma, Mission, BC
28/08/2016 05:10
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