What did prehistoric Siberian men give their shivering significant others to show their significance or celebrate the anniversary of their first spring thaw together? Would you believe an ice-cold stone bracelet? After over 7 years of study, Russian researchers have determined that a stone bracelet discovered in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 2008 is the oldest-known jewelry of its kind ever found.
The bracelet is stunning—in bright sunlight it reflects the sun’s rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green. It is unlikely it was used as an everyday jewelry piece. I believe this beautiful and very fragile bracelet was worn only for some exceptional moments.
Anatoly Derevyanko, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, is describing a bracelet that dates back 40,000 years to the Denisovans, an extinct species of humans (homo altaiensis) who were genetically distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans. The bracelet, found in two fragments, was discovered in a soil layer that also contained bone specimens of Denisovan humans.
It took quite a while to verify that the bracelet – made of chlorite, a soft green stone – was Denisovan for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the quality of the jewelry was far beyond what was assumed to be within the capabilities of a Denisovan craftsman.
The ancient master was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as easel speed drilling, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning.
Derevyanko and his team confirmed that the bracelet was indeed from the Denisovan period by dating the soil around it with oxygen isotopic analysis and comparing it to dirt at other depths. In addition to the fine craftsmanship and design, they were amazed that this primitive culture wore and respected such fine jewelry. Their research indicates that the bracelet was worn on the right wrist of a privileged woman or child and only on special occasions. The leather strap and smaller drill holes suggests it was adorned with other stones or a charm.
While bracelets made of other materials predate this one, experts consider this to be the oldest stone bracelet ever found. It’s currently in display in the Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East in Novosibirsk, Siberia.
Rumor has it the statement most commonly heard at the display is: “Look – even the Denisovans gave their girlfriends nice jewelry.”