Paleolithic Bone Jewelry Tells A Remarkable Story Of Prehistoric People Living 31,000 Years Ago

At the Sungir Upper Paleolithic site bone jewelry has been discovered and found to serve numerous purposes in the daily lives of our prehistoric ancestors.

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A team of archaeologists led by MSU’s Vladislav Zhitenev have discovered bone jewelry from the Sungir Upper Paleolithic site in Russia which dates back from 29,000 to 31,000 years ago and tells the story of a vibrant group of prehistoric people once living in the area. This location is a very special one and has been found to yield some of the very oldest records of Homo sapiens dwelling in the region of Europe.

The bone jewelry that was found is believed to have served more than one purpose. On one hand, quite a lot of the jewelry was constructed with purposes of burial in mind. Yet other jewelry was also created to adorn these prehistoric people in decorative fashion while going about their daily lives.

Archaeologists have discovered that this particular type of Paleolithic bone jewelry found at Sungir had taken its influence from popular jewelry at the time being worn in other parts of Russia as well as various areas of Europe, according to Eureka Alert.

The Sungir Upper Paleolithic site first began to be studied in depth around 30 years ago, and on the site there is burial ground which holds the remains of a man that was between 40 to 50 years of age when he died as well as two small children who would not have made it past the ages of 10 to 12-years-old.

Vladislav Zhitenev has remarked that the grave containing the burial of the children holds more prehistoric jewelry than any other grave that has been discovered in the region.

“This children’s grave contains more adornments and other burial items than any other Upper Paleolithic burial site in Eurasia.”

The Paleolithic bone jewelry includes teeth that were extracted from Arctic foxes, bead necklaces constructed from various animal bones and other types of personal jewelry. This prehistoric jewelry was found to have been of the variety that was probably worn in daily life as it contains telltale signs of much use, including numerous signs of wear and tear like marks made from frequent rubbing.

Other jewelry would have been designed specifically to be buried alongside loved ones and made quite quickly when death had occurred, or was close. One of the items that was discovered to have been used for this exclusive purpose was a figurine carved into the shape of a horse.

It is not currently known why the children’s burial site contained so much jewelry, both of the kind that had been worn in life as well as constructed for burial purposes, although it has been surmised that those living in the community took this death as a time to make sacrifices to the gods, which would have included precious jewelry which held great personal importance to them.

Featured image credit: Suzanne PlunkettAP Images

Having noticed that some of the jewelry created using tusk disks looked to be done in a haphazard fashion, it is believed that items found buried alongside the dead had been created not only by experts but also by children themselves.

Paleolithic bone jewelry would have been considered an important part of the lives of prehistoric people and would have been used to communicate ideas such as who was a friend and who was an enemy. It would also have been a window into different communities to ascertain one’s social standing which could probably be fairly easily determined by looking at the jewelry that they wore.

When gazing specifically at the graves of the man and the two children who had died at the Sungir Upper Paleolithic site, Vladislav Zhitenev observed that much of the jewelry looked similar and may have been made by the same person. But it is also possible that the expert who originally crafted the jewelry would have taught others in the family how to make it which would account for its striking similarity.

“When looking at an item, one can always see a master’s hand. Many adornments from the burial sites of the man and the children were crafted in the same way, as if by the same person. Alternatively, this technique could have been passed within the family, say, from father to son or from grandmother to granddaughter.”

Further work and examination of the bone jewelry continues at the Sungir Upper Paleolithic site in Russia and the latest findings have been published in EPAUL 147.