19 June 2015

"Advanced Denisovan" bracelet at 40,000 years BP claims have been overhyped by many

A stone bracelet from Siberia's Denisova Cave, claimed to be 40,000 years old due to dating of soil and made by Denisovans because of a pinky finger bone and two teeth found in the same soil layer. Neither claim is proven and requires further research at other sites to corroborate the possibility.

"Near one of the cracks was a drilled hole with a diameter of about 0.8 cm. Studying them, scientists found out that the speed of rotation of the drill was rather high, fluctuations minimal, and that was there was applied drilling with an implement - technology that is common for more recent times."

The significance of the “Denisovan bracelet” is not the disbelief of the establishment that Denisovans were capable of such stone working technology but that the claim has been given fact-like status in the popular media and even in this Pleistocene Coalition News (PCN) article. At this time, we only know this could perhaps, possibly, be the oldest known jewelry of its type.

"The institute's deputy director Mikhail Shunkov suggested that the find indicates the Denisovans - though now extinct - were more advanced than Homo sapiens and Neanderthals." This suggestion is preposterous and not supported by anything but the archaeologist's desires.

The bracelet is not attributable to Denisovans with any degree of certainty. There is no such thing as a “Denisovan layer” at 40,000 B.P. when we know there was breeding between Denisovans and Homo sapiens sapiens. They were in fact co-existing and more, so the presence of a Denisovan bone does not exclude the presence of Homo sapiens sapiens if we accept the 40k soil date as equal to the bracelet date.

Further, there is evidence of Homo sapiens sapiens occupations over thousands of years in the Denisova Cave until as recently as the Middle Ages. And "... researchers have suggested that Neanderthals, H. sapiens, and a third group of genetically distinct hominins (the Denisovans) inhabited the Altai region at the same time some 40,000 years ago."

Siberian archaeologist Anatoly Derevyanko merely believes the layer was not contaminated by Homo sapiens sapiens. There is no way to prove this or to exclude the possibility the bracelet and ring were not deposited by later intrusions into that soil layer such as with a burial of someone wearing them both. Because stone bracelets like this have never before been associated with soils or cultures anywhere near 40,000 years old, archaeologists have a further burden to demonstrate other examples before claiming anything more than pure conjecture. No hard conclusions can be made based on this single find.

Archaeologists now need to find use of easel speed drilling, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning as used on this bracelet in a “Denisovan layer” somewhere that pre-dates and excludes Homo sapiens sapiens. Then we can discuss Denisovan jewelry. This is not likely to occur in our lifetimes.

I personally think it is very possible it is a Denisovan bracelet but think the highly speculative claim of the archaeologists only lays the ground for further research. I also think speculation is a healthy part of initial scientific inquiry and my speculations about portable rock art are prefaced by the word "suspected" in this blog's header. Sometimes, art is a difficult thing to prove.

However, speculation in the cloak of fact by archaeology officialdom needs to be questioned. In its desire to demonstrate early human intelligence and capabilities they have failed to qualify or be critical of claims regarding this bracelet. We simply do not know that this was a Denisovan bracelet or that it is 40,000 years old and these should not be accepted or repeated as established facts.

For now, it's just an interesting possibility.

The archaeologists reporting the bracelet, the popular media and the PCN have contributed to a distortion of the human past by presenting the technologies used to make the bracelet as “advanced.” This is a highly judgmental and biased construct of these analysts and does not reflect any “undeniably high workmanship (PCN)” on any known material culture technology continuum.

Some early art collectors, scholars and students would be of the strong opinion that "more advanced" stone working technologies and concepts in art were present at several hundred thousand years ago and almost completely lost to us in our time. Luckily the internet has come along to allow world-wide uncensored exchange of photos and opinions by persons making these observations. From another and important perspective, the "Denisovan bracelet" may be seen as quite a juvenile, simplistic piece of work.

“It should be noted that many millennia would pass before modern man would again turn out jewelry of the same quality and workmanship (PCN)” Does the PCN really believe this can be known?

“So what is the bracelet that has stood the archaeological community on its ear? It’s (sic) physical appearance shows that it is something that most any modern woman would be proud to wear (PCN).”  This only furthers the distortion of this artifact in the greater archaeological context and seems to value the artifact more because it is like something we are familiar with. Value judgments like this should be culled from anthropological presentations.

The archaeologists present a modern copper bracelet next to the purported “Denisovan bracelet” in their media release photos (photo above) which also distorts its technological and cultural context and can only be present as a rhetorical device to show us how much those Denisovans were just like us.

The hardness of the Denisovan braclet stone approximates that of wood on the Mohs scale. It seems possible the same technologies could have been in use on wood for a very long time and we just happened to have been given a glance at a wood technology applied to a highly rare stone material procured by the maker. What if the Denisovan bracelet is a freak? Maybe we need to see examples on harder stone, more like the known Neolithic examples, in a Denisovan context before such direct comparisons of lithic technologies may be properly made.

It is time for archaeologists to adopt a more honest and taphonomically logical approach to these kinds of discoveries and to strive for an emic perspective rather than falling into an etic, even judgmental one.

In conclusion, there is not enough archaeological data or knowledge which should allow the publishing researchers or the PCN to draw the conclusions they have. The PCN article title is "Advanced technological skills in early human groups is still resisted." Maybe this resistance is because it is not proven in this case.

Proposed "goal state model" after a kind of taphonomic logic of criticism is applied to the "Adavnced Denisovan" bracelet. Click photo to expand and view.
Disclosure: I was perturbed by the archaeologists' publication, then the mainstream media reports. Then the PCN chimed in and I felt the topic should be addressed with a more critical eye. The PCN has published a couple of articles I submitted to them over the years and I link to two at the top of this page. I enjoy the PCN immensely and am very thankful for the extraordinary volunteer efforts of its publishers and editors.        -KBJ

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