Scientists have found a 50,000 year old sewing needle – complete with a hole for thread – during the annual summer archeological dig at an Altai Mountains’ cave widely believed to hold the secrets of man’s origins. It appears to be still useable!
The 7 centimetre (2 3/4 inch) needle was made and used by our long extinct Denisovan ancestors, a recently-discovered hominin species or subspecies. It is seen as providing proof that the long-gone Denisovans – named after the cave – were more sophisticated than previously believed. The needle was made from the bone of a large and so far unidentified bird.
The needle rewrites history since the previous oldest such object dates to some 40,000 years ago and it is assumed that the newly-found needle was made by Denisovans, as it was found in the same layer where Denisovan remains were previously found. The archaeologists have found needles before in the cave, but in ‘younger’ (archeological) layers.
Layers of the cave’s flooring show that it has been occupied by humans for 282,000 years. Scientists believe that Denisovan remains date back up to 170,000 years ago.
The Denisova Cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains is horizontal, with a wide entrance and is approximately 600 metres long with a floor area of roughly 270 square metres. It is located 670 m above the sea level. The cave was formed out of Silurian limestone and consists of spacious 9 x 11 metres large central chamber with three smaller side galleries. A vertical chimney conveyed smoke from a fireplace. Altai people call the cave Aju-Tasch – Bear Rock. According to their legends an evil sorcerer lived in the cave.
It is a unique place, where three different groups of humans lived in the last 100,000 years: Denisovans, Neanderthals and Modern Humans. It has provided a succession of revelations about ancient man. It was here in 2008 that Siberian scientists discovered a finger bone fragment of ‘X woman’, a juvenile female believed to have lived around 41,000 years ago.
The genetic materials in the bone fragment and a molar were preserved, allowing the Max Planck Institute to analyse the DNA. The results revealed a new species, cousin of the Neanderthals, named the ‘Denisovans’. Both species share a common ancestor, which in turn shares a common ancestor with Homo Sapiens.
Denisovans also interbred with some populations of Homo Sapiens, contributing about 5% of the genome of some today’s Oceania people and 0.2% of the genome of Native Americans and main-land Asians.
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