There was news late this week about some archeologists who had allegedly found a 25,000 year old pendant in a cave in Siberia that belonged to a woman. It was even purported that DNA testing taught us a lot about that mysterious woman. Unfortunately, not much of the news piece is actually true, which we dig into in some depth below.
The article was written by Katie Hunt for CNN on May 3, 2023 — Traces of ancient DNA contained in old bones have spilled fascinating secrets about the past.
I must admit that when I first saw this headline I was a bit peeved. Not even confused — though granted if taken at face value the headline would be confusing if someone didn’t know much about the science and actually believed it… but really it was just downright annoying and anger inducing if you’re a lifetime subscriber to these subjects.
And I’ll tell you why. We, modern humans of the homo sapien variety, that is, don’t find “jewelry” or anything as ornate or complex or artistic from the peoples who existed 25,000 years ago. We find stone tools, in reality mostly bone tools, spear heads or arrow heads or hand axes, but that’s it. A pendant?!?! Not a chance.
Well as it turns out the article IS misleading, and thus that’s where the confusion comes in to any reader who has a full or even healthy grasp of this field.
Firstly, they didn’t find a pendant. They found a deer tooth that has a tiny hole poked through it. they’re guessing that it may have been worn as some kind of jewelry, like a pendant or bracelet or any number of other things — since all they found was a deer tooth. The picture that accompanies the article is also completely misleading. It’s not a photograph of what they found. It’s a drawing by a modern artist of what a necklace made of metal (that’s still 20,000 years away…) with a pendant dangling from it made out of a rather fancy deer bone. Having nothing to with anything remotely realistic or possible 25,000 years ago
They were able to find traces of human DNA on the tooth they say, and from that they are concluding that one of the people who wore it may have been female. Because of this, they assume it may have been used as a pendant.
This is THE aspect of these sciences that bothers me the most. Let me make it clear, as any longterm readers already know, that out of all the myriad sciences human beings have created over the last 10,000 years, anthropology, archeology and paleontology are right up there with cosmology, ontology, astrophysics and quantum mechanics as my favorite. I am thoroughly obsessed with them and spend far too many hours per week studying and keeping up with these particular subjects — for someone who doesn’t actually work in any of those fields that is.
The biggest drag about the three aforementioned “earth sciences” is that unlike the others, they incorporate a LOT of guessing and assumption in their work. If you started studying any of them, you’d be immediately taken with, and perhaps slightly pissed off by, just how much guessing is involved in coming up with certain ideas that we were taught were truths when we were kids — and yet at least 40-50% of the ideas are formed around guesswork and assumption and not truths or facts at all.
That’s an important point. Something real and solid that everyone should know and can use as a stable reference point. My personal feeling is that they should stop with all the ventures into imagination mode and just stick with science the way the other human sciences do.
To make it clear and hammer this important distinction home, look at the headline of the article. But it should read:”DNA from a 25,000 year old deer tooth perhaps reveals a woman who possibly may have worn it in some manner, or not.” Now that would be accurate. And truthful.
Now we’re all familiar with the Denisovan caves of Siberia. It’s the home to one of the five different human species who all walked the earth at the same time. Most people don’t know this fact. But indeed FIVE different human species existed, all at the same time, and walked the earth together. Only one survived to modern day, Homo sapien sapiens. That’s us. But there were also the Neanderthals, the Tomai Man, Homo Florenciensus, and The Denisovans.
Imagine an earth for a moment when all five different humans were roaming around, hunting gathering protecting procreating all at the same time. That reality boggles the mind no matter how many times one ponders it.
Because this deer tooth is so new, or recent, it’s too new to belong to the Denisovans, who lived in earlier times. So they claim ownership belongs to a group they call the Eurasians, a group of Homo sapiens who would have been in that area approximately 18,000 to 25,000 years ago. BUT they were living in what was once home to a different human species, the Denisovans.
This deer tooth is still an incredible find. And the DNA testing showing extracts from a female who may have worn it is intriguing, because it is one of the only times we’ve been able to extract any human DNA from a stone or bone artifact from the prehistoric age. But other than that, the actual facts underlying the article wipe away all the glitter and glamour the headline portends.