Eldest jewelry decorated by people in Eurasia – Wissenschaft.de

An oval mammoth ivory pendant adorned with dots is the earliest known example of a man-made jewel in Eurasia. Researchers have now dated the pendant, which was found in a cave in Poland in 2010, to an age of 41,500 years. The piece of jewelry shows that as early as the late Paleolithic, shortly after they had spread across Central and Western Europe, people displayed symbolic behavior and produced transportable works of art.

For millennia, people have not only made tools but also art objects that serve primarily aesthetic rather than practical purposes. But when did you start developing a symbolic culture that is about more than just survival on a day-to-day basis? So far, this question has been difficult to answer, as most of the archaeological finds relevant to it come from earlier excavations and could not be dated with certainty. The oldest known pieces of jewelry were estimated to be around 40,000 years old.

Decorated ivory pendant

A team led by Sahra Talamo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has now examined a decorated ivory pendant that was discovered in the Stajnia Cave in Poland in 2010. With the help of radiocarbon dating, they determined the age of the small work of art to be 41,500 years. Older jewelry had previously been discovered in Africa, including ornate seashells, which were dated to be 82,000 years old – a time when Homo sapiens had not yet spread to Europe. “The pendant from the Stajnia Cave is the oldest known object of its kind in Eurasia and represents a new beginning date for a tradition that is directly linked to the spread of modern Homo sapiens in Europe,” the researchers write.

The pendant is about 4.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. About fifty small puncture points can be seen on its front, forming an uneven loop – possibly a representation of the course of the moon or a count of animals shot during the hunt. The ivory was completely pierced in two places. One of these holes is only partially preserved because the trailer broke off on the side. “This piece of jewelery testifies to the great creativity and the extraordinary manual skills of the members of a Homo sapiens group who lived in the site. The thickness of the plate is about 3.7 millimeters – the carving of the points and the holes for the pendant was carried out with astonishing precision, ”says co-author Wioletta Nowaczewska from the University of Wrocław in Poland.

Precise age determination

To determine the age of the trailer without destroying it, the researchers used a combination of different methods. “With the help of 3D modeling techniques, we virtually reconstructed the finds and restored the pendant accordingly, which enabled us to take detailed measurements and simplified the description of the decorations,” explains Talamos colleague Stefano Benazzi.

The most precise age determination is possible with the help of the radiocarbon method, in which the decay of the carbon isotope C14 is measured in a sample. But to do this, part of the artifact has to be removed. Thanks to new methods, the researchers succeeded in dating a tiny amount of just 350 milligrams. “This work shows that with the latest methodological advances in radiocarbon dating, we can not only minimize the amount of sampling but also obtain highly accurate data with a very small margin of error,” says Talamo.

Symbolic culture in the Paleolithic

In addition to the pendant, the researchers also dated various animal bones and a tool made from horse bones, a so-called awl, which come from the same site and are of a similar age. The results support the assumption that the decorations were actually created 41,500 years ago. Alternatively, it would also have been conceivable that the mammoth bone is correspondingly old, but that it was not decorated until thousands of years later. However, both the other finds from the cave and the delicacy of the decorations, which would not have been possible on an old bone, show that the traces of processing must be as old as the bone itself.

“This find is unique evidence of the importance of direct dating of a Paleolithic art object for understanding the origins of communication, celebration and life of Homo sapiens in Europe,” the researchers write. The amulet proves that the Paleolithic people in Europe had a symbolic culture earlier than expected and produced wearable works of art.

Source: Sahra Talamo (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig) et al., Scientific Reports, doi: 10.1038 / s41598-021-01221-6


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