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World's oldest needle found in Siberian cave that stitches together human history

By The Siberian Times reporter
23 August 2016

'Sensational' discovery in Denisova Cave is at least 50,000 years old BUT it wasn't made by Homo sapiens.

The needle is seen as providing proof that the long-gone Denisovans - named after the cave - were more sophisticated than previously believed. Picture: Vesti

The 7 centimetre (2 3/4 inch) needle was made and used by our long extinct Denisovan ancestors, a recently-discovered hominin species or subspecies.

Scientists found the sewing implement - complete with a hole for thread - during the annual summer archeological dig at an Altai Mountains cave widely believed to hold the secrets of man's origins. It appears to be still useable after 50,000 years.

Professor Mikhail Shunkov, head of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, said: 'It is the most unique find of this season, which can even be called sensational.

Denisovans needle

It appears to be still useable after 50,000 years. Picture: Vesti

'It is a needle made of bone. As of today it is the most ancient needle in the word. It is about 50,000 years old.' 

The needle is seen as providing proof that the long-gone Denisovans - named after the cave - were more sophisticated than previously believed. It predates by some 10,000 years an intricate modern-looking piece of polished jewellery made of chlorite by the Denisovans.

It was made of the bone of a large and so far unidentified bird. 

Denisovans needle


Denisovans needle

The 7 centimetre (2 3/4 inch) needle was made and used by our long extinct Denisovan ancestors, a recently-discovered hominin species or subspecies. Pictures: Russia 24, Vesti

Dr Maksim Kozlikin, head of the excavations at Denisova cave, said: 'The length of this needle is 7 centimetres, 6 millimetres. It is the longest needle found in Denisova cave. We have found needles before, but in 'younger' (archeological) layers.' 

The needle rewrites history since the previous oldest such object dates to some 40,000 years ago, according to Russian scientists. It is assumed that the newly-found needle was made by Denisovans, as it was found in the same layer where Denisovan remains were previously found.

Maksim Kozlikin

Dr Maksim Kozlikin, head of the excavations at Denisova cave: 'It is the longest needle found in Denisova cave.' Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

The cave has provided a succession of revelations about ancient man. It was here in 2008 that Siberian scientists discovered a finger bone fragment of 'X woman', a juvenile female believed to have lived around 41,000 years ago. 

Analysis showed she was genetically distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans. In 2010 analysis on an upper molar from a young adult, found in the cave ten years previously, showed the tooth was also from a Denisovan. 

Map


Denisova cave


Denisova cave


Denisova cave

The cave lies in the Altai Mountains around 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of the city of Barnaul. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

Layers of the cave's flooring show that it has been occupied by humans for 282,000 years. Scientists believe that Denisovan remains date back up to 170,000 years ago

The bracelet was discovered in 2008, and scientists have since suggested it showed the Denisovans to be more technologically advanced than Home sapiens or Neanderthals.

Scientists 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.

Mikhail Shunkov

Professor Mikhail Shunkov, head of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, said: 'It is the most unique find of this season, which can even be called sensational.' Picture: IAET SB RAS 

It was also carefully polished and grinded, with a heavy pendant added in the centre, probably hanging from a short leather strap. The cave has also provides evidence of cross-breeding between modern Homo sapiens with both Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Additionally, it has provided proof that early man surged out of Africa some 35,000 years earlier than was assumed by experts. 

'It is the first genetic evidence of modern humans outside Africa,' said Sergi Castellano, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, earlier this year. 

Bracelet


Denisovan bracelet


Denisovan bracelet

The bracelet was carefully polished and grinded, with a heavy pendant added in the centre, probably hanging from a short leather strap. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya, Anastasia Abdulmanova

The cave lies in the Altai Mountains around 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of the city of Barnaul. Prof Shunkov said: 'We can confidently say that Altai was one of the cultural centres... the modern human was formed.'

Scientist Svante Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute, in Leipzig, Germany, has said: 'The one place where we are sure all three human forms have lived at one time or another is here in Denisova Cave.'

The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography is part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

Comments (51)

Would this bone be from a birds wing?
I am wondering how strong the bone is/ was to create something
Such an interesting find.
Jillian Child, Bexhill on sea East Sussex.
29/08/2016 18:30
2
2
I wish to contest Shari C's comment that Russia and Canada own the whole northern part of the Northern Hemisphere. Alaska is a sizable piece of territory.

Quibbles aside the article was fascinating and informative.
Donald Reid, Georgia, USA
28/08/2016 21:26
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To nit pick about the writing of this article is unnecessary. Loved the information.
Shari C., Bloomington/USA
28/08/2016 18:43
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No matter what the Cold War has done to our worldviews, as a Canadian I have always felt a stronger kinship to Russia than to any other country. It's probably that together we own the whole northern part of the Northern Hemisphere and much of our climate and geography is the same. I envy the anthropologists working on this project as I have always been interested in the Altai Mountain area as well as Lake Baikal. It must have been an important 'hide-out' for ancient peoples during the last period of glaciation and I'm certain that this is also the arena where the Mongoloid facial features of 1/4 of the Earth's population evolved.
I would work for 3 "hots" and a "cot" if I had the opportunity to go to this wonderful place. At 62 years of age I am 3/4 of the way into an Anthropology degree and I'm vicariously enjoying the work you people are doing there.
Erik Bosma, Nission, BC, Canada
28/08/2016 05:18
12
1
To the poster who is having a difficult time with the length of the needle. It is plain to see by 'observing' the photos above, it is quite obvious that the needle is a little over 7 cm in length. Also, when converting this length to Imperial units of length one must know the 'standards' that are used in this instance. Observation and Standards. Two important components of Science. Please learn them before you post or your comments will not be taken seriously. An 'Inch' is equal to '2.54 cm.' It would take you about 3 seconds to discover that for yourself if you would have just taken the time to double-check your facts (another important component of science).
Erik Bosma, Mission, BC
28/08/2016 05:10
3
3
Not that it's a big deal, but a 6.05 cm needle would be 2.75 inches, this needle is more like 3.25 inches long (if my metric equivalents are not mistaken 2.2 cm = 1 inch). Denisovan's rule!
,
27/08/2016 03:55
3
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AT, Canada (bottom of first page): you suggest the phrase "complete with hole for thread" is redundant because that's what makes it "a needle". Maybe that's what makes it a sewing needle but you obviously weren't thinking about objects like acupuncture needles, knitting needles, hypodermic needles, pine tree needles, instrument needles, or (if you're that technologically savvy) gramophone needles - to name just a few. PS. Are you anywhere near Seattle ? They have a space needle you could go have a look at - but make sure you stay grounded, yeah.
Jaybee, Medicine Hat
27/08/2016 03:23
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amazing, the whole read is very interesting,
adrian bullen, Burnham On Crouch IK
27/08/2016 00:29
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I'm assuming that these Denisovan.people weren't desperately surviving, since they had enough leisure time to create aesthetics.This is comforting.....but do you think they could do E-mail?
R.MARESZ, KENTUCKY
26/08/2016 23:06
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It's a fantastic find, that shows we must keep our eyes and minds open to new interpretation and understanding.

There are so many levels or dimensions to creation. I think it is possible on these different levels, for people to embrace both spirituality, and academic or scientific reason.



There will always be an accepted mainstream dogma or truth, which serves as an example or as an absolute - depending on the intelligence of the learner. Over time, many of these change and when the tipping point comes, teachers will use a new common example.



Science does not now, and probably never will hold all the answers. No sooner do we find proof of a new theory, that we uncover 3 new questions. Various philosophers, priests, and theorists will then address those questions until an accepted position is reached. Some will never stop working on a single issue they are driven by. Such is our cycle.
Adamski Ads, Auckland, New Zealand
26/08/2016 12:40
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The question of thread came up. Several options. Dried intestine or sinew have been used. Cat gut has been used for medical stitches. Sinew is used by native people in far northern areas. Someone else mentioned fur. Wool is twisted to form thread today, by hand or with simple devices. Wooly mammoth, goats, and musk ox come to mind. The same cord used as fishing line would work well. Thin strips of leather do not work well in my experience, especially the size that would fit the needle.
LeDoyle Pingel, Grundy Center, Iowa, USA
26/08/2016 12:33
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Speaking of Svante Paabo, check out "Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes," by him.
Mitch D., NewJersey, U.S.A.
26/08/2016 09:08
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This does NOT prove that the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection is wrong. It only proves that our assumptions about the capabilities of early hominids are flawed!

That the Denisovans were capable of crafting a needle, and more, is indication that the cerebral cortex, built over the basic mammalian brain was already functioning splendidly!

Anyone in need of some basic education about the brain within evolutionary process can read "The Enchanted Loom, Mind in the Universe", by R. Jastrow. It is a bit dated, published in 1981, as it was, but the basic science has not changed.
Mitch D., NewJersey, U.S.A.
26/08/2016 08:54
8
2
With the discovery of 12,000+ year old advanced sites like Gobekli Tepe Ancient megalithic structures are more & more being theorised to be possibly many thousands of years older than previously thought (still highly debated I know) but ONLY ever discussed as potentially being built by humans identical to us or frigging Aliens, NEVER any mention of potentially being built by some long extinct advanced hominid species or subspecies, why is this?
Neiloss Barross, Melbourne
26/08/2016 08:05
6
2
Fascinating. I wish I was in my youth and able to be part of this amazing archealogical time. We know so little but with today's technology we are learning more each day. The only thing that modern day man knows for sure is that we are here, have been for many years and that Planet Earth exists. We know little about the creation of our world but we're doing one hell of a job destroying it. With our ^wisdom^ and ^greatness^ as a species we are believing we can control Mother Nature. We may be in for a suprise in years to come.
Dru kendall, Uk
26/08/2016 06:17
7
3

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