Tool made from horse bone that is believed to be over 40,000 years old

The hallmark, made of horse bone, is represented on four sides. Photo: Talamo et al.

A European horse bone tool has been dated over 40,000 years ago by scientists.

The awl, a small pointed tool for drilling holes, was found on the same site as a decorative mammoth ivory pendant, which dates from the same period.

The objects, along with other bone fragments, were found in the Stajnia cave in Poland.

The pendant and the hallmark date from the early Upper Paleolithic.

The objects coincide with the dispersal of groups of humans in central and western Europe around 42,000 years ago. Human inhabitants began to manipulate mammoth tusks for the production of pendants and small portable art objects, such as carved statuettes, sometimes decorated with geometric patterns.

In addition to lines, crosses and sharp symbols, a new type of decoration – the alignment of punctuation marks – appeared in some ornaments in southwestern France and in figurines from the Swabian Alb in Germany.

So far, most of these ornaments have been discovered from older excavations, and their chronological attributions remain uncertain.

The Stajnia pendant, presented in two angles, is decorated with a pattern of at least 50 stitches, creating an irregular looping curve.  It would have had two holes to allow its owner to wear it.  Image: Talamo et al.
The Stajnia pendant, presented in two angles, is decorated with a pattern of at least 50 stitches, creating an irregular looping curve. It originally had two holes for its owner to wear. Image: Talamo et al.

A new study published in the journal Scientific reports, describes the earliest known ivory punctuated pendant – i.e. a pendant marked with dots or small holes – found in Eurasia.

Its age of 41,500 years places this personal ornament from the Stajnia cave in the record of the first dispersions of Homo sapiens in Europe.

The work, which involved carbon dating, was led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, the University of Bologna in Italy, the University of Wrocław in Poland, the Polish Geological Institute-National Research Institute in Warsaw, Poland, and the Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals Polish Academy of Sciences.

“Determining the exact age of this gem was fundamental to its cultural attribution, and we are delighted with the result,” said Sahra Talamo, lead author of the study and director of the BRAVHO radiocarbon laboratory in the chemistry department of the ‘University of Bologna.

“This work demonstrates that using the most recent methodological advances in the radiocarbon method allows us to minimize the amount of sampling and obtain very precise dates with a very small error range.

The cave in southern Poland where the hallmark and pendant were found.  Photo: Jerzy Opioła, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The cave in southern Poland where the hallmark and pendant were found. Photo: Jerzy Opioła, CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

“If we are to seriously resolve the debate about when mobile (wearable) art emerged in Paleolithic groups, we need to date these radiocarbon ornaments, especially those found in previous fieldwork or in complex stratigraphic sequences. .

The study of the pendant and the hallmark also involved digital techniques, which included micro-tomographic analyzes of the findings.

“Using 3D modeling techniques, the findings were virtually reconstructed and the pendant appropriately restored, allowing for detailed measurements and supporting the description of the decorations,” said co-author Stefano Benazzi, director of the osteoarchaeology laboratory. and paleoanthropology from the Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Bologna.

The pendant was discovered in 2010 during fieldwork led by co-author Mikołaj Urbanowski among animal bones and some stone tools from the Upper Paleolithic.

Distinct short-term occupations by groups of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens have been identified from the cave’s archaeological records.

The pendant’s disposal likely occurred during a hunting expedition to the Krakow-CzÄ™stochowa highlands, where the pendant broke and was left in the cave.

Similar decorations appeared independently across Europe.

Co-author Wioletta Nowaczewska, from the University of Wrocław, said the pendant shows the great creativity and extraordinary manual skills of the members of the Homo sapiens group who occupied the site.

“The thickness of the plate is around 3.7 millimeters, showing amazing precision in cutting out the perforations and the two holes to wear it,” she said.

Co-author Adam Nadachowski, Institute of Systematics and Animal Evolution at the Polish Academy of Sciences, said any meaning attached to the shape of the pendant and its decoration will remain an open question. The pendant’s looping curve might, for example, indicate a lunar analemma (the position of the moon seen from a fixed location), while the decorations might indicate a destruction score.

“However, it is fascinating that similar decorations have appeared independently across Europe.”

In large-scale scenarios about the first expansion of Homo sapiens in Europe, the territory of modern Poland was often excluded, suggesting that it remained deserted for several millennia after the demise of the Neanderthals.

“The ages of the ivory pendant and the bone punch found in the Stajnia cave finally demonstrate that the dispersal of Homo sapiens in Poland took place as early as Central and Western Europe,” said Andrea Picin of the Institute. Max Planck of Evolutionary Anthropology from Leipzig. .

“This remarkable result will change the perspective on the adaptability of these first groups and call into question the monocentric model of diffusion of artistic innovation in the Aurignacian.

Further detailed analyzes of ivory assemblages from the Stajnia cave and other sites in Poland are currently underway and promise to provide more information on strategies for the production of personal ornaments in Central and Eastern Europe.

Talamo, S., Urbanowski, M., Picin, A. et al. A 41,500-year-old decorated ivory pendant from the cave of Stajnia (Poland). Sci Rep 11, 22078 (2021).

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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