Cambridge scholar makes rare 30,000-year-old find

Aug 01, 2006

Archaeologists have unearthed a pair of tiny bone fragments dating back almost 30,000 years and featuring minute designs carved by some of our earliest European ancestors.

The thumbnail-sized bone fragments are engraved with parallel lines and match similar artefacts uncovered in the same area during the 19th century. They were carved by hunter-gatherers as they slowly made their way north in pursuit of moving populations of mammoth and reindeer 25-30,000 years ago.

The unusual find was made by a Cambridge scholar, Becky Farbstein, who has been working at Predmosti in north Moravia, in the Czech Republic. The excavation team comprises archaeologists from both the University of Cambridge and the Czech Republic.

Experts are, however, still not sure what significance the markings had and are trying to build up a collection to interpret their meaning. So far such finds have been few and far between.

“There has not been much in the way of decorated objects found at this site for a very long time,” Miss Farbstein said. “They are very similar in design to other decorations that were found a century ago. The designs are pretty enigmatic and understanding their meaning is still a problem. But for that reason any addition to the amount of art we have is valuable as it will enable us to piece that meaning together.”

Miss Farbstein spotted the fragments while sorting through a mixture of solid objects left over from a filtration process which the team are using to identify plant remains. Fortunately, she recently began studying this important collection of early decorated forms and recognised their significance.

“Both pieces preserve a regular series of parallel lines engraved on one side of a bone fragment,” she said. “The lines are the same distance from each other on both pieces, suggesting the two fragments might have originally been part of the same decorated object. The character of this decoration is very similar to other engraved designs found in the past at Predmosti and this addition to the corpus of enigmatic decoration from this site is very exciting.”

The joint excavation team, from the Institute of Archaeology at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the University of Cambridge, is led by Professors Jiri Svoboda and Martin Jones. Predmosti, on the outskirts of the north Moravian town of Prerov, sits at a gap in the central European mountains, the start of a corridor through which these early hunters gradually migrated on to the North European Plain.

Just over 100 years ago, brickyard workers in Predmosti discovered vast quantities of mammoth bone and tusk. Many of the fragments had been cut, broken and burnt by the human communities who once lived there and a few had been fashioned into human or animal shapes, or incised with these enigmatic designs. Much of the evidence was lost to the brickyards, but the fragments that remain form the focus of both the current dig and an open-air museum sponsored by the City of Prerov to celebrate and present to visitors their world-famous prehistory.

Source: University of Cambridge

Explore further: New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How 'man of science' was dumped in favour of 'scientist'

Aug 05, 2014

JT Carrington, editor of the popular science magazine Science-Gossip, achieved a remarkable feat in December of 1894. He found a subject on which the Duke of Argyll, a combative anti-Darwinian, and Thomas ...

North American Freshwater Mussels

Oct 09, 2012

A new book by U.S. Forest Service scientist Wendell Haag provides the first comprehensive view of the ecology and conservation of the approximately 300 species of North American freshwater mussels. Intended ...

Russian spacecraft to crash soon, risks unclear

Jan 12, 2012

(AP) -- A Russian space probe designed to burnish the nation's faded space glory in a mission to one of Mars' moons has turned into one of the heaviest, most toxic pieces of space junk ever.

Recommended for you

New hadrosaur noses into spotlight

Sep 19, 2014

Call it the Jimmy Durante of dinosaurs – a newly discovered hadrosaur with a truly distinctive nasal profile. The new dinosaur, named Rhinorex condrupus by paleontologists from North Carolina State Univer ...

Militants threaten ancient sites in Iraq, Syria

Sep 19, 2014

For more than 5,000 years, numerous civilizations have left their mark on upper Mesopotamia—from Assyrians and Akkadians to Babylonians and Romans. Their ancient, buried cities, palaces and temples packed ...

New branch added to European family tree

Sep 17, 2014

The setting: Europe, about 7,500 years ago. Agriculture was sweeping in from the Near East, bringing early farmers into contact with hunter-gatherers who had already been living in Europe for tens of thousands ...

User comments : 0