Stone Age pendants carved from human BONE are discovered in Russia

Was Stone Age man a CANNIBAL? 8,000-year-old pendants carved from human BONE are discovered in Russia – and experts say their makers may have eaten the victims

  • 37 bone pendants dating back to the Stone Age were found in Russia in 1930s
  • New analysis reveals that 12 of the pendants are made from human bone
  • The use of human bone as a raw material is usually associated with cannibalism 

Scientists have discovered Stone Age pendants made from human bone in Russia, indicating people living there at the time may have been cannibals.

Thirty-seven pendants thought to date back to around 6,200 BC were found on the island of Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov on Lake Onega in the 1930s, but until now, their composition has remained unclear.

Now, researchers from the University of Helsinki have analysed the pendants and say that 12 were carved from human bone.

‘Cannibalism cannot be ruled out even though we do not have clear evidence of such,’ the researchers wrote.

Scientists have discovered Stone Age pendants made from human bone in Russia, indicating people living there at the time may have been cannibals

Researchers from the University of Helsinki have analysed the pendants and say that 12 were carved from human bone

Are the pendants a sign of cannibalism? 

While none of the bone pendants found in Russia show clear signs of cannibalism, the researchers say they ‘cannot rule it out’.

‘None of the human bone pendants from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov show traces of meat removal, such as cut marks,’ the researchers wrote.

‘This is not necessarily the whole truth, however, since the items are small, and their original surface has been polished away in many cases.

‘It is possible that the bones had cut marks that are not visible in these small fragments.’

In the study, the team used mass spectrometry to analyse bone pendants found in three graves, one of which contained two deceased individuals.

Their results revealed that 12 of the samples were human, while the rest were made primarily from the bones of elks and a bovine animal.

The human bone pendants are flakes of broken long bones of varying sizes, with one or two grooves cut into them.

Previous studies have shown how human bones were used as raw materials in Asia and South America.

For example, body parts of the deceased were known to be processed into pendants before being worn by family members out of respect or attachment.

In other cases, body parts of enemies were worked on before being displayed.

However, this is the first time that evidence of human bone pendants from the period has been uncovered in Northeast Europe.

According to the researchers, the use of human bone as a raw material is usually associated with cannibalism.

And while none of the bone pendants found in Russia show clear signs of cannibalism, the researchers say they ‘cannot rule it out’.

‘None of the human bone pendants from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov show traces of meat removal, such as cut marks,’ the researchers wrote.

‘This is not necessarily the whole truth, however, since the items are small, and their original surface has been polished away in many cases.

‘It is possible that the bones had cut marks that are not visible in these small fragments.’

The researchers believe that it’s likely the pendants were used as ornaments or rattles, and say it’s particularly interesting that the human-bone and animal-bone pendants were found in the same contexts.

‘The fact that the use of human bones was not emphasised in any way and that the objects are indistinguishable and similar to objects made of animal bones may indicate the intertwining of animals and humans in the Stone Age worldview,’ said Professor Kristiina Mannermaa, who led the study.

‘Using animal and human bones together in the same ornament or clothing may have symbolised the ability of humans to transform into animals in their minds, in addition to which they believed that animals were capable of taking human form.

‘We know that such blurring of forms and boundaries has been and still is part of the worldview of indigenous peoples.’

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE STONE AGE?

The Stone Age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory.

It begins with the earliest known use of stone tools by hominins, ancient ancestors to humans, during the Old Stone Age – beginning around 3.3 million years ago.

Between roughly 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, the pace of innovation in stone technology began to accelerate very slightly, a period known as the Middle Stone Age.

By the beginning of this time, handaxes were made with exquisite craftsmanship. This eventually gave way to smaller, more diverse toolkits, with an emphasis on flake tools rather than larger core tools.

The Stone Age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory. This image shows neolithic jadeitite axes from the Museum of Toulouse

These toolkits were established by at least 285,000 years in some parts of Africa, and by 250,000 to 200,000 years in Europe and parts of western Asia. These toolkits last until at least 50,000 to 28,000 years ago.

During the Later Stone Age the pace of innovations rose and the level of craftsmanship increased.

Groups of Homo sapiens experimented with diverse raw materials, including bone, ivory, and antler, as well as stone.

The period, between 50,000 and 39,000 years ago, is also associated with the advent of modern human behaviour in Africa.

Different groups sought their own distinct cultural identity and adopted their own ways of making things.

Later Stone Age peoples and their technologies spread out of Africa over the next several thousand years.

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