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50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave...

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06 December 2018


The Paleolithic tiara can be dated approximately to between 45,000 to 50,000 years. Picture: The Siberian Times

The remarkable find was made this summer in the famous Siberian cave where over many millennia early Home sapiens lived alongside extinct Neanderthals and another long-gone branch of ancient man known as Denisovans.

The suspicion is that the tiara - or diadem - was made by Denisovans who are already known to have had the technology 50,000 or so years ago to make elegant needles out of ivory and a sophisticated and beautiful stone bracelet. 

The tiara maybe the oldest of its type in the world. 

It appears to have had a practical use: to keep hair out of the eyes; it’s size indicates it was for male, not female, use.

Another theory, although related to tiaras made 20,000 years later by people living around river Yana in Yakutia is that they could have denoted the family or tribe of ancient man, acting like a passport or identity card.

50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave

50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave

50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave

50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave
Southern gallery of the Denisova cave where the previous tiara was found, team of Siberian researches and closer pictures of the woolly mammoth ivory headband. Pictures: Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography

Marks on it show it had 'wear and tear’ before being discarded as broken in a cave that is seen by archaeologists as one of the most significant treasure troves of early man anywhere in the world. 

There were, though, no religious symbols or ornaments on the woolly mammoth tiara - made at a time when the giant species still roamed Siberia with ancient man as a predator.

The Palaeolithic tiara can be dated to between 45,000 to 50,000 years, and was worn by a man with a large head, according to researcher Alexander Fedorchenko, from Novosibirsk Institute of Archeology and Ethnography. 

There is a hole in the rounded end of the tiara, where a cord was threaded to tie the it  at the back of the head.

Earlier a small piece of a frontal part of an ornamented mammoth ivory tiara was found in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. 

The latest discovery adds to the theory of Siberian researchers that the ancient inhabitants of the cave wore tiaras for many millennia and most likely produced them. 

50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave
The woolly mammoth ivory tiara. Picture: The Siberian Times

The fact of manufacturing is evidenced by numerous fragments of mammoth tusk found inside the cave.

‘Finding one of the most ancient tiaras is very rare not just for the Denisova cave, but for the world. Ancient people used mammoth ivory to make beads, bracelets and pendants, as well as needles and arrow heads’, said Fedorchenko. 

‘The fragment we discovered is quite big, and judging by how thick the (strip) is, and by its large diameter, the headband was made for a big-headed man.’ 

He explained that some 50,000 years after it was made, it fitted his own temple and the back of his head.

Its diameter could have changed with years due to gradual straightening of the curved part, he said. 

‘Mammoth ivory plates were first thoroughly soaked in water to become more ductile and not crack during processing, and then they were bent under a right angle,’ he said. 

‘Any bent object tends to return to their original shape over time.

‘This is the so-called memory of the shape effect. We must remember this while trying to judge the size of the head of the tiara’s owner by its diameter.’

50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave

50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave

50,000 year old tiara made of woolly mammoth ivory found in world famous Denisova Cave
The woolly mammoth ivory tiara, and the Denisova Cave. Pictures: The Siberian Times 

The world famous Denisova cave first caught the attention of Soviet scientists in 1970s, when they found palaeo-archeological remains which led to further research. 

Now the site on the border of Altai region and the Altai Republic, in the south of western Siberia, has a permanent research camp, seen as the  pride of Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography.

‘We have quite a collection of mammoth ivory found inside the Denisova cave, thirty pieces in total with various types beads, three rings, parts of bracelets and arrowheads’, said Fedorchenko. 

‘Finding a piece as big as tiara is an incredibly rare discovery for Siberia. 

‘There were mammoth ivory tiaras, including some decorated, found on Palaeolithic sites in the extreme North and in the east of Siberia. 

‘But these tiaras were created much later, from 20,000 to 28,000 years ago.’

Such examples are from the Yana site in Yakutia.

The tiara is a gift for trace evidence experts as it shows all possible ways of processing mammoth ivory used by ancient men from the Denisova Cave, like whittling, soaking in water, bending, grinding, polishing and drilling.

‘These are all possible technologies from A to Z typically used in the Paleolithic time, but which are usually associated with activities of Homo sapiens. 

‘Here we likely deal with another, more ancient culture, because there was not a single piece of bone belonging to a Homo sapiens found in the cave’, said Fedorchenko. 

What the Siberian scientist did find were bones of a new type of human that was named Homo altaiensis, or Denisovan. 

The researchers are still working with the precious piece of mammoth ivory, defining its dating and reconstructing the tiara. 

Once assembled, there will be pictures and drawings of what the tiara looked like many millennia ago. 

Denisova Cave needle

Denisova Cave needleq

Denisova Cave bracelet

World oldest needle and world oldest stone bracelet found in 11th layer of Denisova cave. Pictures: Vesti. Altai, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SB RAS

There is a good chance other pieces of the tiara will be found.

‘The mammoth ivory is so durable it keeps for centuries. As long as other pieces of tiara were not damaged or eaten by cave hyenas, we will find them,’ said Fedorchenko. 

He explained the issues researchers face when dating pieces made of mammoth ivory. 

The radiocarbon method gives the date of the mammoth’s death, but the age of the tusk and the time it was processed might differ for dozen thousand years. 

To get a more accurate dating, scientists have to date the archeological layer where the tiara was found. 

This can be done by radiocarbon dating of animal remains found in this layer, or by using a more up-to-date Optical Dating method. 

This technology allows experts to establish the time when the culture-containing layer was upper and revived daylight (photons). 

Denisova Cave bracelet

A finger bone fragment of 'X woman', a juvenile female, found in Denisova cave in 2008. Picture: Max Planck Institut

Earlier this year details were revealed in Nature journal of the discovery of evidence of an inter-species child called Denny who lived some 90,000 years ago.

She was the product of a sexual liaison between a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father, according to DNA findings. 

Other discoveries in the cave include bracelet made from made from stunning green-hued chlorite, bead jewellery from ostrich eggs, and a needle - still useable today.

These testify to their talents, say archeologists. 

Yana site tiara

Unique full-size Upper Paleolithic tiara of mammoth tusk found on Yana RHS Site by Professor Vladimir Pitulko. Picture by Vladimir Pitulko

Denisovan blood lives on, but nowhere near Siberia.

Remarkably, Denny’s relatives - with five per cent Denisovan DNA - are the native peoples of Australia and Papua New Guinea, presumably after her descendants gradually migrated eastwards from Siberia - interbreeding as they journeyed.

The Denisovans were first identified a decade ago when a tiny finger bone fragment of so-called 'X woman' was discovered,  a young female who lived around 41,000 years ago.

She was found to be neither Homo sapiens nor Neanderthal. 

The tiara is a gift for trace evidence experts as it shows all possible ways of processing mammoth ivory used by ancient men from the Denisova Cave.

Comments (17)

Lot of assumptions on dating of artifacts and other conclusions.
Dwight, Wisconsin USA
18/04/2019 16:10
I am wondering why the term tiara was chosen. I think head band would be more appropriate. The idea that it is a tump line seems unlikely as the holes are too close to the end and would break. Also the "tiaras" shown further down were much more slender. Considering how much more complex we are finding the hominid mix, I wonder if the genetics of the 12,000 year old finds in Kow Swamp in Australia have been analyzed recently. I saw the magnificent wall of skulls set up recently in the DC Smithsonian Institute. In the lower right hand corner of the exhibit is a skull identified as homo sapien (because it was 12,000 year old). It looked far more ancient in form. It did not look Neanderthal, and the closest skulls I could see it comparable to were all Heidelbergensis. We are very much at the beginning of figuring it all out. I wish I could live another 50 years to see results.
G. Lee Aikin, Washington, DC
22/01/2019 08:30
Bull-roarer sounds plausible
20/01/2019 20:11
Since it appears to be of a large and robust size, perhaps it is actually a tumpline and the hole at its end should actually point downwards...
Quiff, Barstock
16/12/2018 04:56
Climate change, not Neanderthal DNA wiped out Denisovans. 18,000 years ago asteroid impact caused a spike in dust in lake vostok ice cores and temperature drop to -5 degrees celsius caused the loss of female population in indonesian hobbits and humans. Gender ratios skewed 1:4/1:7.
Sean Robert Meaney, Darwin/Australia
12/12/2018 06:12
David Marjanović,

Yeah, wow - what next? Elon Musk finds ostrich-shell jewelry under a rock on Mars?!

Back in the U.S.S.R., Denisova had a different role, and folks were hoping to ride it to different kinds of places. Not directly linked or dependent, but certain circles were keen to establish that "food storage" was very big, may have been a key to the Great Leap that established modern-type phenomena (~40Kya - which we are staring straight at in these Denisova strata).

Circuitously, we are now indeed bearing down on reviving the role of "storage". You do not haul ostrich-shell material to the far-flung reaches of the globe during the Upper Paleolithic, without Staging & Storage. And this stuff is valuable - more so than pure gold - so it must be PROTECTED.

Only days ago, on EurekAlert, we see reports of long-range transport & trade of Obsidian tool-making materials. BY NEANDERTHAL. Signs are, we're looking at the broad-spectrum application of storage, 'warehousing' ... and the attendant necessary attention to security.

Somebody had to be in charge of regulating access to the Dried Berries, for example, or obviously they would just be all gobbled down before we even get to Stone Age Thanksgiving, much less Christmas & New Years. There had to be Rules of Conduct, to as we say today, 'have nice things'. And they had nice things.

So sure enough ... Highly-structured trade in Jewelry from far-far away. With everything that necessarily implies. By 3 branches of Modern-antecedents, all in the same - darned unlikely! - place. Hmm.

... But then, there is a package of reasons why the northern Altai center-of-Eurasia might be the right Place.
Ted Clayton, Forks, WA USA
11/12/2018 21:01
Lolke Stelwagen,

Yes, the practice of trying to 'fix' & 'define' the nature and significance of artifacts should broadly be 'called-out'.

That the 'tiara'-fragment was made for a man's head because it is large, is just as easily explained by putting it on a woman wearing a hood or other head-cover ... as yeah-huh we might somehow conjure in the depths of Siberia?

It's an intellectual disease going around, not just at Denisova. It's an institutional-science epidemic, world-wide.

And look at the amazing & ubiquitous Aucheulian Hand Ax, which for many folk virtually defines Stone Age. To address what the old-timers did with these things, how they were handled without losing a few fingers ... many appear never to have 'used', in any normal tool-sense. What the heck were these quintessential ancient manufactured objects? Truthfully, "we dunno".

But not to worry too much. In closely-related institutional-contexts of the Press, we now have a Big-Bad name with which to tag this kind of reality-bending. So I look forward to a suitable 'correction', in science.
Ted Clayton, Forks, WA USA
11/12/2018 20:21
"bead jewellery from ostrich eggs"

Ostrich eggshell? In Siberia???
David Marjanović, Berlin
11/12/2018 00:58
Why could this not have been a Bullroarer? Nowadays I only know of straight ones. Could be worth though to test if this shape would have worked too for long distance communication... you never know. As far as I know the idea of this being a tiara is just as farfetched. The Bullroarer was used in stoneage periods in Australia, North- and South-America and Europe. for a concept so widespread, it is likely going back a long time....
Lolke Stelwagen, Vleuten, Netherlands
10/12/2018 04:14
credo che un reperto come questo meriti lo studio così approfondito e che dia altre spiegazioni sulle culture umane e che aiuti la ricerca a conoscere sempre più i comportamenti e gli musi delle popolazioni preistoriche. Non dobbiamo fermarci alle solite critiche non costruttive ma crtedo che il lavoro che voi state svolgendo sia veramente importante per la conoscenza preistoricsa
alberto castagna, verona italia
08/12/2018 04:51
Very cool find, truly great work at Denisova, and elsewhere around Siberia.

This type of wrap-around facial object also served as 'snow glasses'. Pre-Western Arctic folk cut a narrow horizontal slit in front of the eyes to improve the vision and block glare. Slit-glasses tended to flare quite wide on the front, and have a notch for the nose.

Glasses may have been highly-developed, with different orientations of the slit conferring various optical effects. You can experiment, simply by looking through a close gap between the thumb & finger. It works. It does Dim the image, so it only works to give higher visual acuity, on brightly-illuminated scenes. The effect is related to the well-known Pinhole Camera.

Presumably, 'common' glasses would be birch-bark, or leather. The slit-area might be 'thinned-down'. Composite-constructions could be expedient, better and cheaper.

Is Denisova the Best? It is certainly a personal favorite! Currently at this cave, a specific time-period is the focus. Earlier, and later periods have their own criteria, and best-examples. The interjection of the Denisovan population - on top of the still-new finding that Neanderthals Live (which yeah, we knew all along..;) - into the Modern Human story puts the heart of Siberia on the short-short list of paleoanthropological success-stories today.

Different caves & sites have complementary strengths. The paintings of the French caves are so evocatively-Human. But the oh-my-Goodness beauty of the translucent green bracelets at Denisova are equally relatable.
Ted Clayton, Forks, WA USA
08/12/2018 01:02
officials just should make sure no -wild- diggers are allowed there. to blunder there and rob whatever they can find. it would be a real pity. the people who dig there are the real professionals and know what they are doing. it would be a shame if all that would be destroyed just for money and greed by a few.
Benedikt MORAK, Moscow
07/12/2018 21:10
I am impressed by the continuing stream of archaeological research about the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic periods that flows from Russia and Siberia. It sets a standard of innovation that all of us must emulate. Taking lessons from the excavators of Yana and Denisova, important finds have been made here in the Americas at 13,000 year-old Clovis sites showing a clear and unequivocal relationship to Eurasian precursors. Like the Denisova and Yana tiaras, we too note interesting proboscidean ivory and bone objects plus caribou (reindeer) antler objects of a ritual nature. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing with us!!!!
Richard Michael Gramly, United States
07/12/2018 19:10
Love your information. Informative and interesting.
Don Pavlovich, Vancouver
07/12/2018 11:17
姚剑申, 巨鹿/中国
07/12/2018 07:49

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