The Stajnia Ivory Pendant Is The Oldest Eurasian Artifact To Date
A 41,500-year-old artifact is Eurasia’s oldest human-decorated jewelry
A recent publication in the journal Scientific Reports1 reveals the discovery of a decorated ivory pendant and bone awl from a cave site in Poland called Stajnia. These items were discovered in 2010. Prior knowledge of Aurignacian cultures manipulating mammoth ivory was established from artifacts found in Geißenklösterle cave2 and Hohle Fels cave3 in Southwestern Germany and Tuto de Camalhot cave4 in France. But inaccurate dating in the form of stratigraphic context only limited our understanding of the true age of those earlier discoveries.
Shifts in frost disrupted the stratigraphy of the Stajnia cave site, so the ivory pendant and bone awl could only be dated by direct radiocarbon dating. Using an accelerator mass spectrometer, the researchers extracted collagen and performed two separate radiocarbon dating tests at two separate laboratories to ensure precise, accurate results. The pendant is dated to be somewhere between 41,730 and 41,340 years old. The bone awl, on the other hand, had been carved sometime between 42,270 and 42,070 years ago. This makes the pendant the oldest adorned artifact found in Eurasia to date.
It is hard to decipher what the looping curve of over 50 puncture marks and two holes represented to these people. This ornate pattern is not strictly meant for decoration alone. Perhaps, it each represents a successful kill during a hunt? Or perhaps there is some symbolism to the cycles of the cosmos, such as the sun and moon, as represented by the two holes? We may likely never know the meaning behind this pendant but what is certain is that it is the oldest known jewelry of its kind in Eurasia.
Furthermore, it establishes the oldest evidence of Aurignacian art tradition that is directly connected to the spread of modern Homo sapiens and the replacement of other hominins, throughout Europe during the Upper Paleolithic. The term Aurignacian specifically refers to a diverse style of stone, bone tools that first appeared in European archaeological record around 43,000 years ago.
In addition to making tools, the Aurignacian culture also produced ornaments such as engraved pendants, beads, bracelets along with cave art, and stylized Venus figurines. The emergence of art reveals how ancient humans interpreted the world around them and communicated it. By directly dating this art form, we now have solid evidence that symbolic behaviors emerged at least 41,500 years ago.
Talamo, S., Urbanowski, M., Picin, A. et al. A 41,500 year-old decorated ivory pendant from Stajnia Cave (Poland). Sci Rep 11, 22078 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-01221-6
Conard, N. J. Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art. Nature 426, 830–832 (2003).
Conard, N. J. A female figurine from the basal Aurignacian of Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany. Nature 459, 248–252. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07995 (2009).
Anderson, Lars. (2018). Knowledge and know-how in Early Aurignacian lithic assemblages: the example of La Tuto de Camalhot (Ariège, France) / Connaissances et savoir-faire dans les industries lithiques de l'Aurignacien ancien : le cas de La Tuto de Camalhot (Ariège, France).