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Stone bracelet is oldest ever found in the world

By 0 and 0 and 0
07 May 2015


While bracelets have been found pre-dating this discovery, Russian experts say this is the oldest known jewellery of its kind made of stone. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

It is intricately made with polished green stone and is thought to have adorned a very important woman or child on only special occasions. Yet this is no modern-day fashion accessory and is instead believed to be the oldest stone bracelet in the world, dating to as long ago as 40,000 years.

Unearthed in the Altai region of Siberia in 2008, after detailed analysis Russian experts now accept its remarkable age as correct. 

New pictures show this ancient piece of jewellery in its full glory with scientists concluding it was made by our prehistoric human ancestors, the Denisovans, and shows them to have been far more advanced than ever realised.

'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 in Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Denisovan bracelet

Denisovan bracelet

Made of chlorite, the bracelet was found in the same layer as the remains of some of the prehistoric people and is thought to belong to them. Pictures: Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov

'It is unlikely it was used as an everyday jewellery piece. I believe this beautiful and very fragile bracelet was worn only for some exceptional moments.'

The bracelet was found inside the famous Denisova Cave, in the Altai Mountains, which is renowned for its palaeontological finds dating back to the Denisovans, who were known as homo altaiensis, an extinct species of humans genetically distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans.

Made of chlorite, the bracelet was found in the same layer as the remains of some of the prehistoric people and is thought to belong to them.

What made the discovery especially striking was that the manufacturing technology is more common to a much later period, such as the Neolithic era. Indeed, it is not clear yet how the Denisovans could have made the bracelet with such skill.

Denisovan bracelet

Denisovan bracelet

New pictures show this ancient piece of jewellery in its full glory with scientists concluding it was made by our prehistoric human ancestors. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya

Writing in the Novosibirsk magazine, Science First Hand, Dr Derevyanko said: 'There were found two fragments of the bracelet of a width of 2.7cm and a thickness of 0.9 cm. The estimated diameter of the find was 7cm. Near one of the cracks was a drilled hole with a diameter of about 0.8 cm. Studying them, scientists found out that the speed of rotation of the drill was rather high, fluctuations minimal, and that was there was applied drilling with an implement - technology that is common for more recent times.

Denisovan bracelet

Typical Neolithic bracelet

Traces of the use of drilling with an implement on the bracelet from Denisova Cave. Polished stone bracelet of Neolithic era. Pictures: Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov, Vera Salnitskaya

'The ancient master was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as drilling with an implement, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning.'

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.

Dr Derevyanko said the bracelet had suffered damage, including visible scratches and bumps although it looked as if some of the scratches had been sanded down. Experts also believe that the piece of jewellery had other adornments to make it more beautiful.

'Next to the hole on the outer surface of the bracelet can be seen clearly a limited polished zone of intensive contact with some soft organic material,' said Dr Derevyanko. 'Scientists have suggested that it was a leather strap with some charm, and this charm was rather heavy. The location of the polished section made it possible to identify the 'top' and 'bottom' of the bracelet and to establish that it was worn on the right hand.'

Denisovan bracelet

Denisovan bracelet

Polished zone of intensive contact with some soft organic material. General reconstruction of the view of the bracelet and compraison with the moders bracelet. Pictures: Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov, Anastasia Abdulmanova

Located next to the Anuy River, about 150 km south of Barnaul, the Denisova Cave is a popular tourist attraction, such is its paleontological importance. Over the years a number of remains have been found there, including some of extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth. In total evidence of 66 different types of mammals have been discovered inside, and 50 bird species.

The most exciting discovery was the remains of the Denisovans, a species of early humans that dated back as early as 600,000 years ago and were different to both Neanderthals and modern man.

In 2000 a tooth from a young adult was found in the cave and in 2008, when the bracelet was found, archaeologists discovered the finger bone of a juvenile Denisovan hominin, whom they dubbed the 'X woman'. Further examination of the site found other artifacts dating as far back as 125,000 years.

The institute's deputy director Mikhail Shunkov suggested that the find indicates the Denisovans - though now extinct - were more advanced than Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

Denisovan bracelet

Denisovan bracelet

The traces of reparation on the cracks. Bracelet had suffered damage, including visible scratches and bumps. Pictures: Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov

'In the same layer, where we found a Denisovan bone, were found interesting things; until then it was believed these the hallmark of the emergence of Homo sapiens,' he said. 'First of all, there were symbolic items, such as jewellery - including the stone bracelet as well as a ring, carved out of marble.'

The full details of the ring are yet to be revealed. 

'These finds were made using technological methods - boring stone, drilling with an implement, grinding - that are traditionally considered typical for a later time, and nowhere in the world they were used so early, in the Paleolithic era. At first, we connected the finds with a progressive form of modern human, and now it turned out that this was fundamentally wrong. Obviously it was  Denisovans, who left these things.'

This indicated that 'the most progressive of the triad' (Homo sapiens, Homo Neanderthals and Denisovans) were Denisovans, who according to their genetic and morphological characters were much more archaic than Neanderthals and modern human.' 

Denisova Cave, Altai Mountains

Denisova Cave, Altai Mountains

The entrance to the Denisova cave and the archaeological excavations inside. Pictures: The Siberian Times

But could this modern-looking bracelet have been buried with older remains?

The experts considered this possibility but rejected it, saying they believe the layers were uncontaminated by human interference from a later period. The soil around the bracelet was also dated using oxygen isotopic analysis.

The unique 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.

Irina Salnikova

 Irina Salnikova, head the Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East in Novosibirsk. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

'All jewellery had a magical meaning for ancient people and even for us, though we do not always notice this. Bracelets and neck adornments were to protect people from evil spirits, for instance. This item, given the complicated technology and 'imported' material, obviously belonged to some high ranked person of that society.'

While bracelets have been found pre-dating this discovery, Russian experts say this is the oldest known jewellery of its kind made of stone.

Comments (55)

Such a great collection!!!

Well, the article is well worth to read. Such a great taste in jewellery.
Pure Envy, Adelaide
19/08/2021 13:22
chlorite,similar to soapstone,finger nail scratch,mos ~2-2.5...make that in a week...also,archaeo-dating is problematic due to radio-carbon false old dates because of the electrical discharges that lead to the ice-age some ~3500 yrs ago...not much on the surface older than this...the whole planet has been completely resurfaced within the last 10 kyrs...Mauri ora...xc
chris bennett, waikato nz
29/04/2020 18:06
Looks more like jadeite than chlorite to me.
Olly Rogan, QUeenstown, New Zealand
24/04/2019 09:36
It is stated that the bracelet is made of Chloite which is 2 to 2.5 MOh’s hardness scale.

This would not have taken that long to cut and polish.
Karen Brock, Dane, USA
20/10/2018 15:01
I do not understand comments such as "the find indicates the Denisovans - though now extinct - were more advanced than Homo sapiens and Neanderthals". We have Neanderthal pendants, and also complexly carved sapiens harpoons from Zaire at 90,000 BP. Of course all of these things are subject to accuracy of dating (whether Zaire or Denisova), so the comments may be in the light of new knowledge (I have seen ages for Denisovans of 40,000 years, before 100,000 years, and in this article 600,000 years, the last long pre-dating Neanderthals by far, almost back to the appearance of Heidelbergensis from probable H. erectus.

Simon, we have plenty of remnants of Hominims that pre-date the last ice age, from England to East Asia (not to mention Africa) - but otherwise your comment seems reasonable in principle. 100,000 years is pushing the last glacial period back a bit (still habitable for some time after that in Europe, although I don't know the situation around Denisova).
Martin, Victoria, Australia
23/08/2018 07:17
How do you know it wasn't an ankle bracelet and not an arm bracelet?
Stanley, New York, USA
19/11/2017 20:45
What tools did they use to polish it? It would have taken someone a decade to craft and polish it by hand. We love prehistoric jewelry! Thank you for the article. -Staff from American Geode, http://www.americangeode.com
American Geode, New York, NY
01/11/2017 21:24
The hole may be part of a repair. The missing piece may have also had a similar hole and the two parts were then tied together. Repairs like that are common to Native American artifacts.
Gary M, Central IL
12/10/2017 22:37
Thank you for this article. The narrow slice of time and space we have as humans is expanded by work like this. They are truly strange and wonderful, the Denisovans, to contemplate. I like how this changes "anthropomorphic".
julie mccabe, boulder colorado usa
12/07/2017 01:27
There's another thing. Fluorite has fluorescence. I can just imagine a woman wizard of 400 thousand years ago holding her arm up to the sun for a time in the middle of the day - imbueing it with natural ultraviolet rays in the high Altai mountains, and then immediately plunging with her tribe into a cave to see it glow bright blue. If I had to make a wild guess I would say the tethered stone ring hanging from the drill hole would be calcite, also glowing a bright red at the same time. Calcite can glow white as well.

I don't know if this would work, but it's worth a try. I do know ultraviolet is strongest at noon, and quite present in light at high altitude. I will try to do in natural noon light now with specimens, and peek at it under a dark blanket. Maybe it will work? I've used an ultraviolet lamp to make minerals fluoresce, and it's always a light show that impresses both children and adults.  http://geology.com/articles/fluorescent-minerals/
Joshua Jones, Davis, USA
08/07/2017 13:15
Did the writer of the article mean to say this amazing bracelet was made of fluorite? The color is right for fluorite, since it is often green, and the edges of this thick bracelet shine through with light. If so, fluorite would be ideal for fabricating and drilling, since it has the Mohs scale hardness of 4.

On the one hand, I studied Geology, and on the other hand, I am part Native North American. I'm very familiar with the bow-drill, and can imagine myself carving and drilling this piece, with perhaps a quartz tip fixed with pine pitch to my drill shaft, Mohs scale hardness of 7. It would take a fairly long time, but it's very possible.
Joshua Jones, Davis, USA
08/07/2017 13:14
I teach jewelry making in a community college in the bay area. Part of my course outline includes a slide show of @ 130 images from the earliest types of adornment from 125,000 years ago to technical pieces of the present day. It is fascinating and gratifying that so much of what we can learn about human development comes from discovery of the works of ancient people and the advent of symbolic thinking. The bracelet in this article is part of my slide show, so thanks for this article.
Lisa, Bay Area, CA, USA
17/05/2017 09:56
I note that a layer is not identified, I also note that they are pretty sure of the conclusions they have obtained. Having said that, stone working would assuredly have occurred at least this far back since stone often have the greatest colors and nice crystals can be found on gravel bars in rivers, I have found some myself, so I know man and relatives have found them as well. Displaying of richly colored or nicely shaped pieces. Working stone would have followed that of wood and bone, just a natural progression. Great article, informative and well presented.
Mark Ferguson, Blaine Washington
16/05/2017 09:03
To Frans Roost: Chlorite, not Chloride, and yes, it is incredibly soft, and easily shaped, polished, and can even be scratched by a fingernail, so a simple bow-drill would whizz through it in no time.
Herb, UK
08/03/2017 15:38
There are still a few questions unanswered. For one Chloride by itself is not a stone and how can you determine gender from only a tooth and a fingerbone? DNA may have been extracted from this 40,000 year old tooth but there is always a possibility it has deteriorated over time so only a partial profile can be generated, which makes the conclusion of a seperate species questionable. Furthermore I'm surprised they haven't found the rest of this bracelet. Usually grave gifts were complete when a body was interred.
Frans Roost , Vlaardingen Holland
25/02/2017 23:26

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