Experts Discovered An Ancient Bracelet In A Cave – And It Could Change Our Understanding Of History

A chunk of shiny green rock would catch anyone’s eye, especially one sitting in a dark Siberian cave. And, as excavators inch closer, they realize that this rock has been chiseled and shaped into something – a bracelet. But they also know that this 70,000-year-old accessory could not have been made by human beings.

The cave in which experts made this stunning find sits in Siberia’s Altai area, the least populated of all of Russia’s encompassed republics and districts. This lack of residents makes the Altai’s natural landscape all the more stunning. Indeed, mountains jut from the ground throughout the region, including the tallest peak in the whole district, Mount Belukha

Tucked within those stunning mountains sits the cave, which has yielded a slew of important paleontological finds for those who trek to explore it. Previously, excavators there unearthed remains of a woolly mammoth. But that’s not all they found. Indeed, they’ve dug up 66 different kinds of mammals and 50 birds.

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Still, the shimmering green bracelet might be one of the most noteworthy discoveries of all. Experts said it had been made with manufacturing technologies typical of humans, but they also determined that our species hadn’t created the jewelry. As it turned out, the cave contained clues as to who – or what – had crafted the eye-catching piece.

It was 2008 when excavators traveled to the Altai region of Russia, once again ready to mine the mountainous cave for its prehistoric secrets. This time, they found a finger bone from an ancient being they called “X woman.” And near to that partial digit, the excavators then found two fragments of a bracelet.

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The fragments showed that the bracelet originally had a nearly three-inch diameter, with its stone curvature measuring one inch wide. But its dimensions weren’t nearly as eye-catching as the material it was made from. The original artisans formed the piece using chlorite, a mineral that shifts its appearance throughout the day.

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Professor Anatoly Derevyanko, formerly of the Institute of Archaelogy and Ethnography, Novosibirsk, described the piece to The Siberian Times. The archaeologist, it seems, was very impressed by it. He said, “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.”

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Derevyanko the concluded that as such, no one would wear this adornment as a casual accessory. Instead, he revealed, “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.” On top of that, it probably belonged to a societally important individual.

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But the bracelet had more than two notable details. Indeed, its stunning color and fancy styling told only part of the story. Experts then deduced that the material itself, chlorite, must have been valuable to the population who created the jewelry. Why? Because the stone isn’t found in the area where the piece was unearthed.

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As such, those studying the bracelet then inferred that chlorite must have been important to those who made jewelry out of it. And experts know this because of how far the artisan would have had to travel to get their hands on it. Indeed, the material could only be found around 125 miles from the cave in Siberia’s Altai region. Which means a whole lot of walking.

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Over time, of course, the chlorite bracelet showed some wear and tear. But the scratches and bumps seemed to have been smoothed away. And this maintenance provided excavators with another clue. Those who created the bracelet must also have had the tools to perform such a task. To that end, the jewelry may have had additional attached baubles to make it even more stunning.

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Derevyanko explained how he and other experts came to realize this. He said, “Next to the hole on the outer surface of the bracelet, [there is] a limited polished zone [resulting from] intensive contact with some soft organic material.” The archaeologist then went on to theorize that the substance in question was a leather strap.

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Derevyanko went on to describe how the leather strap likely held a charm – one that was “rather heavy,” he hypothesized. This added weight meant that the hide then rubbed against the chlorite, creating that polished zone. This shinier area allowed experts to figure out that whoever wore the bracelet probably did so on their right arm.

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Still, the most surprising thing about the bracelet was the skill necessary to craft it. Derevyanko described the “drilled hole” that appears on the chlorite band. He said, “Studying [the aperture], scientists found out that the speed of rotation of the drill [used] was rather high, fluctuations [were] minimal, and that there was applied drilling with an implement.”

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If you think this sounds like a more modern construction method, you’d be right. And that’s why this bracelet has caused such a stir in the historical community. Its makers used very advanced methods to create it, but they did so long before humankind adopted such tools. Initially, experts dated the bracelet as being 40,000 years old, but a more recent inquiry has found it to be even older.

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Maksim Kozlikin, worked in 2017 as a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Novobsibirsk. And he revealed the bracelet’s actual age to the Daily Mail that same year. Kozlikin said, “Preliminary results have been received [that] date […] where the bracelet was found to 65,000 to 70,000 years.”

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These results “[changed] the dating of the finds to [a] more ancient [time],” Kozlikin said. This made the bracelet a marvel of creation, “a world-level phenomenon,” as the researcher put it. And that’s because the jewelry has changed what researchers believe to be the “level of technologies” available to the creatures on Earth 70,000 years ago.

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So, not only did this ancient species drill into the chlorite, but they also used other tools as well. As Derevyanko told The Siberian Times, “The ancient master [craftsman] was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Paleolithic era, such as drilling with an implement, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing […] leather and skins [with] varying degrees of tanning.”

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Normally, such technology wouldn’t have been used until the Neolithic era, which marked the final period of the Stone Age. This epoch began about 12,000 years ago and lasted for upwards of 6,000 years. As you’ll recall, though, the bracelet has been determined to be about 70,000 years old. Which means it was made long before human beings developed such crafting methods.

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So, who – or what – created the bracelet if it wasn’t a human? Experts now have a clearer idea of what this advanced species was, especially considering the place where they found their wares. For years, the Siberian cave has been mined for its prehistoric remnants of a pre-human species called Denisovans.

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The bone fragment found in the Altai cave – the one that belonged to the aforementioned X woman – helped scientists figure out more about the Denisovans. And that’s thanks to a unique feature of the location. As the cavity stays at an average temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the bone’s DNA was still intact when it was unearthed in 2008

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Analyzing the bone’s DNA gave experts a better idea of what the Denisovans were. They realized that this species shared the same common ancestor from which Neanderthals and humans would also evolve. However, the Siberian community began to break away long before the other two species – about a million years ago.

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Indeed, the DNA also showed that the Denisovans appeared because of a previous migration from Africa, but not the one that would send human beings to all corners of the world. And it wasn’t the same event that saw Homo erectus leaving the continent, either. Instead, test results showed that the species came from a migration somewhere between those two events. They, in fact, had a lot more in common with Neanderthals than modern humans.

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In fact, the DNA showed precisely when the Denisovans branched out, genetically speaking, from the species that would become modern humans. This happened about 550,000 years ago. Then, 250,000 years after that, the species began to diverge from Neanderthals. This differentiation most likely began in what is now the Middle East and eventually made its way to the Altai cave.

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Further research into the Denisovans has revealed that they began to inhabit the now-famous cave about 195,000 years ago. Despite this knowledge, however, scientists still don’t quite know what this community actually looked like. In total, experts have only found the X woman’s finger bone, as well as two teeth, a toe and a fragment of jawbone from other members of the species.

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The jawbone has particular significance, as it was the first Denisovan remnant found outside of their namesake Siberian cave. The fragment, dubbed the Xiahe mandible, came from the Tibetan Plateau, which stretches through China’s Xiahe County. Its presence in the area proved that the species roamed there approximately 160,000 years ago.

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The Xiahe mandible shows that the Denisovan people probably had large teeth inside a sizable jaw. However, the Asian continent doesn’t currently have a solid map describing its human evolution. Which means that some skulls uncovered in the area may represent Neanderthals rather then Denisovans, but that has yet to be confirmed.

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Still, using the jaw bone, experts have been able to complete facial reconstructions for the Denisovan species. In many ways, it seems, they looked quite similar to Neanderthals. For instance, the species had wide hips and sloped foreheads. But they also had an extra-long dental arch, bigger than that found in both human and Neanderthal mouths.

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Denisovans, it seems, went on to breed with modern humans. And this means some of their DNA still exists among Southeast Asian populations, as well as those from Oceania. Thanks to this information, as well as the Xiahe mandible, it’s clear the species left its Siberian roots for other parts of the world. Namely, they trekked into Southeast Asia approximately 46,000 years ago.

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But it’s the Denisovans’ presence in the Altai cave that shows just how advanced they were. The bracelet serves as one example – the species also left behind a needle said to be 50,000 years old. Their fine craftsmanship proves that they had advanced leaps and bounds ahead of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, who would later become modern humans.

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According to the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography’s director, Mikhail Shunkov, the cave’s 70,000-year-old section of earth, which yielded the bracelet, proved the species was far in advance if humans at the time. As he explained, “In the same layer where we found a Denisovan bone, we found interesting things; until then it was believed these [were] the hallmarks of the emergence of Homo sapiens.”

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As Shunkov explained, the Denisovans appeared to have made more than just the tools necessary for survival in the wilderness. In fact, they created all sorts of items. “First of all, there were symbolic items, such as jewelry – including the stone bracelet, as well as a ring, carved out of marble,” he said.

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As previously mentioned, the Denisovans hadn’t just roughly crafted these jewelry pieces. Instead, Shunkov reiterated that they used highly advanced methods and tools for crafting their wares. The chlorite bracelet, therefore, was representative of the ancient people’s smarts – none of their contemporaries had managed to achieve anything close.

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Shunkov went on, “[The jewelry was] made using technological methods – boring stone, drilling with an implement, grinding – that are traditionally considered typical for a later time. And nowhere in the world were they used so early, in the paleolithic era. At first, we connected the finds with a progressive form of modern human, and it turned out that this was fundamentally wrong.”

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Instead, Shunkov reiterated, “Obviously, it was the Denisovans who left these things.” As such, the expert and others could confidently declare the cave-dwelling Siberians to be “the most progressive of the triad” of ancient human ancestors – Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans. And yet, what scientists know of the latter’s genetics has them painted as the most archaic of the three.

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Still, some wonder about the veracity of such claims about the Siberian species. For instance, some people argue that a later, more advanced people might have buried the bracelet in the Altai cave. Perhaps they did so in an effort to hide the gorgeous piece, and they happened to dig it into the Denisovan layer.

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However, those most familiar with the Altai cave rejected that notion. For one thing, they said, the layers of soil hadn’t been touched or damaged by later humans. The experts also dated the soil that surrounded the chlorite bracelet, and they found it to be just as old as the Denisovans.

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In the end, the bracelet wound up at the Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East in Novosibirsk. And the museum’s director, Irina Salnikova, lauded the discovery. She said, “I love this find. The skills of its creator were perfect. Initially we thought that it was made by Neanderthals or modern humans, but it turned out that the master was Denisovan.”

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Nevertheless, some experts still have questions about the chlorite bracelet. Most recently, in early 2019, a pair of studies published in Nature questioned who actually made the jewelry. The researchers acknowledged the fact that no Homo sapien presence had been detected in the Altai cave. But humans had, however, encroached on the area at the time of the bracelet’s creation.

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As such, one of the study teams concluded that the concurrent appearance of humans at the time the bracelet appeared “raises the possibility that modern humans may have been involved in the manufacture of these artifacts.” But for now, it seems the jewelry remains credited to the Denisovans. And their existence proves that modern humans weren’t always the most advanced species on the planet.

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