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dancer Sergei Polunin

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)

Yet another example of how archaic humans were far more sophisticated than we have given them credit for. For years it has been argued that they could not have survived in higher latitudes without tailored clothing. The counter argument was always absence of evidence. But as has finally been proved, this is not evidence of absence.
Chris, London
26/08/2016 05:46
6
0
We have a gross propensity to always assume that humans are the superior beings...somehow neanderthals and Denisovans were "less"...I believe this feeling of superiority is crap...glad to see another discovery which allows someone other than "us" to be better at lots of things...did they disappear or is everyone from the past together as one hominoid species.
Anne Albaugh, Salt Lake City, Utah
26/08/2016 01:08
12
4
How would I get permission to share a photo of the needle in a non profit newsletter? I would like to share with fellow needleworkers, and include the image not just the text.



Thank you.
Gina K, Buffalo, USA
26/08/2016 00:50
5
0
Our ancestors were a lot clever than some people would have you believe. They insist on dragging out god did it or aliens or some other rubbish as the only explanation. Drop most people from my dad's or grandpa's generation back there , if a needle was needed my dad or gramps would have one made with in a day, a week or so if they had to invent it. More than likely it was my mom or grams that made it.
Skip West, Montesano, Washington! USA
26/08/2016 00:17
1
0
Makes me wonder how many 70,000 year old bone needles can be found in Wiradjuri and surrounding country. Possum skin cloaks are very fine needwork.
Tikiana, Kura Yerlo
25/08/2016 21:53
5
0
Crazy. I've been following this since the news first broke in/around 2010. In 2012 I had my DNA analyzed by Nat Geo. It was found that I was 3.2% Denisovan. The average European does have some elemental DNA of Neanderthal and Denisovan. To say these people were a different culture would be an understatement. When one studies other sub species of a species, it may find altogether differently preferred ways of living, environment, diet, and even psychological differences of aggression, living in large groups, small group, etc.
The Denisovans and Neanderthals were assimilated into our 'sub species', and 'technically' extinct, meaning there are no longer living per se.
One thing is important to note, during the extraction of the DNA of that girl in cave, it was found that there is evidence of another sub species within that we do not have any knowledge of to date.
jan drobiak, bolton, ct
25/08/2016 18:53
12
0
"Ground", not "grinded". Also, the phrase "complete with hole for thread" is redundant; that's what makes it *a needle*.
AT, Canada
25/08/2016 14:48
9
22
This prove that the darwin theory is wrong. Old generation of human is more advanced than what human think.
Thank GOD for this discovery.
haris, melaka
25/08/2016 08:30
11
56
""High speed drill" here means a vertical stick rotated by a loosely strung bow, with abrasive material at the tip. The stick-rotated-by-bow is a design also used as a fire-starter. Such devices are still in use in some places. I'm unsure how widespread this design was/is, or how many times it's thought to have been invented. It's possible, but less likely* the hole could be drilled with a vertical stick rotated between the palms.

*Less likely because it's more difficult to keep such a drill aligned correctly and it cannot be rotated as fast, but in skilled hands it probably could be done.
WCOOMBS, Belchertown, USA
25/08/2016 07:16
7
1
Fascinating article. Would like to know what else is known about the Denisovians - since what comes out in online journels is usually for members. MJ Caruso... (I remember a classmate by that name in NY): Sorry, and I too am Catholic, but creationism has NO, NO, NO place in the classroom. Evolution is fact, creationism is not, to me creationism is the invention of those (believers in God) who cannot believe that our Maker could have used evolution as is described by science without interfering each step of the way... NOT COOL. So why doesn't he still interfere in natural phenonemon today. Sure the Italian, South Georgia region and Burmese peoples would have something to say to our Maker about the recent earthquakes...
Rev. José Antonio Oquendo-Pabón, Caguas, Puerto Rico
25/08/2016 03:44
15
7
A high speed drill is easily made without modern technology. Use a small bow. Wrap the string around a wooden dowel. Bottom of dowel has stone for cutting. Top of dowel is held with piece of wood so it can rotate freely. Move bow side to side and it rotates the dowel. Native Americans used those drills. thanks
LeDoyle Pingel, Grundy Center, Iowa, USA
25/08/2016 01:07
7
2
The eye of needle shows great design. The area where thread would go is cut away. This makes it much easier to pull needle and thread through a hole.
LeDoyle Pingel, Grundy Center, Iowa, USA
25/08/2016 01:00
11
2
Does this not indicate that the Denisovans were most likely ordinary Homo Sapien Sapiens rather than a different branch. I know the DNA analysis points to a separate branch but ...

Bone needles were previously assumed to be a human invention.
Paul Williams, Canada
24/08/2016 22:58
1
5
This is to Bernie, in a word hair. Human, animal.
Chiane, Naples FL
24/08/2016 22:14
4
2
Just noticed the article's reference to drills of a comparable level of technology to today's. I know there are those who love these flights of scientifically unsupported fancy but please, please don't ruin a perfectly good article with drivel. The information on the needle is exciting enough without spiralling off into pseudo-scientific nonsense.
Robert Kerr, UK
24/08/2016 22:05
8
8

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