This Chlorite bracelet, discovered in 2008 in Siberia, shows the beauty and craftsmanship of prehistoric jewelry. It is intricately made, and thought to have adorned a very important woman or child -- likely only on special occasions. And it has an extraordinary story -- having been made by a species of human now extinct.
When our ancestors first migrated out of Africa around 60,000 years ago, they were not alone. At least two of our hominid cousins had made the same journey -- Neanderthals and Denisovans. Neanderthals, the better known of the two species, left Africa about 300,000 years ago and settled in Europe and parts of western Asia. Through recent discoveries -- it now appears a group called the Denisovans (no longer in existence) -- were more advanced than Neanderthals and even Homo Sapiens! And most fascinating of all -- some of the evidence for this resides in this specimen -- one of the oldest stone ornaments of its type ever found.
It all started with the discovery of a 40,000-year-old adult tooth and an exquisitely preserved fossilized pinkie bone that had belonged to a young girl who was between five and seven years old when she died. Found at the same level was this Chlorite bracelet.
(see raw Chlorite gemstone to the right).
Experts say the level of skill and expertise required to create the piece demonstrates that these earliest humans were more technologically advanced than previously thought. It was 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. '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 of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. (See original, detailed story by Anna Liesowska in The Siberian Times.)
The ancient master who created the bracelet was clearly skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as drilling with an implement, as well as use of a boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing. 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.
The 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.'
This item, given the complicated technology and 'imported' material, obviously belonged to some high ranked person of that society. In most cultures jewelry can be understood as a status symbol, for its material properties, its patterns, or for meaningful symbols. In ancient times, jewelry even had a magical meaning. Bracelets and neck adornments were often used to protect people from evil spirits.
The patterns of wearing jewelry between the sexes, and by children and older people can vary greatly between cultures, but adult women have been the most consistent wearers of jewellery. To the right is an image of what a young Denisovan woman may have looked like.
I've long been fascinated by ancient beads and jewelry. What other mysteries might similar such discoveries create and/or resolve for us?
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy these previous stories from The Bead:
Until Next Time,