“When I saw it, I was shocked.”
In 2010, scientists unearthed an ivory pendant from an abandoned Polish cave. Perforated with patterns reminiscent of lunar cycles and mathematics, the origins of the artifacts are yet to be found by archaeologists. An international team of researchers has just declared the remains to be 41,500 years old.
This makes it the earliest piece of ornate jewelry to be found in Eurasia, and is a wonderful reminder that art’s worthiness is timeless. Images and details of the discovery were published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.
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But beyond its aesthetic value, this ancient pendant also marks the first evidence of later Neanderthal civilization in Polish territory, enriching our textbooks with new data on the movement of early human populations.
“This cave was not expected to contain any evidence of early Homo sapiens, as it was thought to be a Neanderthal cave,” said study lead author Sahra Talamo. “This kind of shows the next step in evolution.”
The story of the pendant began 11 years ago, when researchers excavated two fragments of it in Poland’s Staznia Cave. Each piece is made of mammoth bone and features unique looping designs that are engraved with a dot-like sequence. There are two holes on the ornamentation, which were probably used to attach a type of string to form a necklace.
“When I saw it, I was shocked,” Talamo said of his first encounter with the item.
The confusion arose from its location in a stratigraphic layer of the cave attributed to Neanderthals. Tools and even their teeth of human ancestors had already been discovered there. But according to Talamo, it was strange to associate the jewelry with early humans because of the dotted decoration. Such artwork is typical of Homo sapiens, which lived after the Neanderthal era, and is believed to have engaged in more complex creative endeavors.
Neanderthals had their own jewelry, but it wasn’t nearly as elaborate as newfound pendants. Armed with a plethora of questions, Talamo decides to investigate.
Talamo is an expert in the field of radiocarbon dating, a method that uses an isotope of carbon to determine the age of organic materials. Behold and behold, the pendant did not originate from Neanderthals. It was probably transferred to the lower layer of the cave, even though it was rebuilt by later generations from the Early Upper Paleolithic.
Because of its rarity, she also suggests that these remains may not have been objects common to Homo sapiens. Maybe it could have been some kind of status symbol?
Interestingly, the remains of the pendant were found with an ancient awl, or small pointed tool used to punch holes. Chance? we’ll probably. The construction of the pendants dates back 500 years, the team realized, and that either way, the bone was likely “softened” to form the dotted mark. The discovery is also a result of Talamo’s radiocarbon dating technique.
Opening the past while saving history
Typically, radiocarbon dating is viewed as invasive because it requires breaking down a physical piece of the object being studied. As Talmo says, this is the “method of destruction”.
But for the purpose of this study, he invented a new way to radiocarbon date. Examining almost all delicate art, teeth or instruments require only a small piece of artifact to arrive at an accurate result.
“I tried to develop this method because I want to destroy as little as possible,” Talamo said, but “begin to connect this puzzle of human evolution with a Real piece of the puzzle.”
Going forward, Tlamo’s new technique could be employed for other fossils or artifacts. She hopes to apply it to antique jewelry found in France and Germany, for example, but thinks it could help decode any valuable items worth studying.
A future line of such items may include similarly decorated jewellery, then move on to statues and weapons. The possibilities are endless, which Talamo hopes will prove that radiocarbon dating can be done carefully by any team around the world—a particularly important sentiment, she says, because archeology requires a grandiose perspective.
“You have to have a big team with different minds, different opinions, different disciplines working together for the same goal.” “It will make it stronger – the evidence we’re going to bring to the world.”