Wed. May 24th, 2023


Will Dunham

Scientists in Washington (Reuters) have unearthed an elk canine tooth that was pierced and made into a pendant. They took great care not to contaminate this fascinating artifact, which dates back 20,000 years.

The pendant found in Denisova Cave was a prized possession. Scientists said on Wednesday that a new technique for extracting ancient genetic material identified the pendant’s owner, a Stone Age woman who was closely related to the hunter-gatherers living in an area of Siberia to the east of the cave in the foothills Altai Mountains of Russia.

This method isolates DNA from skin cells, sweat, or other bodily liquids that were absorbed into porous materials such as bones, teeth, and tusks by people thousands of years ago.

Pendants, necklaces and bracelets can provide insight into the past, but we are unable to link a specific object with a person.

The study was published in Nature by molecular biologist Elena Essel, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Researchers who discovered the pendant, which is estimated to be between 19,000 and 25,000 years old used face masks and gloves when handling and excavating it. This was done in order to avoid contamination of modern DNA. The first prehistoric object to be linked with a person by genetic analysis. It’s not known if the woman made it or just wore it.

Essel stated that when she held such an artifact, “she felt transported back in time. She imagined the human hands who had created and used them thousands of years ago.”

As I pondered over the object, my mind was filled with questions. Who made it? This tool was it passed on from one generation, either from a mother or father to their daughter? It is absolutely amazing to me that we can begin answering these questions with genetic tools,” Essel continued.

The maker of the pendant drilled a small hole in the tooth for a cordage that is now lost. The tooth could also have been part a bracelet or headband.

Homo sapiens, our species, first appeared in Africa more than 300,000. It then spread worldwide. According to Marie Soressi of the University of Leiden, senior archeologist of the study, the oldest known objects used for personal ornamentation date back to Africa about 100,000 years ago.

Denisova Cave was inhabited by different extinct human races, including Denisovans (extinct humans), Neanderthals (extinct humans) and our own species. Over the years, the cave has produced many remarkable discoveries including the first known remains of Denisovans as well as various tools and artifacts.

The nondestructive technique used in a laboratory “clean room” in Leipzig works like a washing-machine. In this instance, the artifacts are immersed in liquids that work to remove DNA much like a washing machine does with dirt.

The technique of linking objects to specific people could reveal prehistoric social roles, divisions of labor and gender roles or even confirm whether an object was made by our species. Artifacts were found in areas that had been inhabited by both Homo sapiens, and Neanderthals, simultaneously.

Soressi stated that “this study offers a great opportunity to reconstruct historical roles based on sexe and ancestry.”

(Reporting and Editing by Rosalba o’Brien, Rosalba Dunham)