The ancient inhabitants of the north of Russia were obsessed with moose

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The ancient inhabitants of the north of Russia were obsessed with moose
The ancient inhabitants of the north of Russia were obsessed with moose

In burials made 8,200 years ago on a tiny island in Karelia, archaeologists have discovered a variety of objects intended for the afterlife. Half of the finds are moose teeth with grooves and through holes carved into them. They were used as decorations. Scientists are finding out what connection our ancestors felt with moose.

People have adorned themselves since time immemorial, and in this they were helped by the feathers, bones, skins and teeth of the animals they hunted or admired. Scientists recently reported that more than eight thousand years ago, the ancient inhabitants of a tiny island in northwestern Russia had a particular weakness for moose teeth. Despite the small size of the island, many people were buried there, next to which archaeologists discovered a variety of burial items, including elk teeth, which accounted for about half of all finds.

Probably, the ancient people had special feelings for the moose themselves, and not only for their dental apparatus, but the spirit disappears, but the teeth remain.

In total, in 84 burials of the late Mesolithic era on the island of Yuzhny Oleniy in Lake Onega in northwestern Russia, not far from the Finnish border, archaeologists have found more than 4, 3 thousand elk incisor teeth, which ancient people wore as pendants or sewn on clothes (from which, of course, there is nothing left). The ancient makers of these pendants on the island did not appear to have tried to make them works of art, judging by the results of dental analyzes. Archaeologists have found these pendants on the island for a long period of time, and now they are kept mainly in the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St. Petersburg.

“The amazing fact is that the treatment of the pendants found in different graves is the same,” wrote Kristiina Mannermaa of the University of Helsinki and her colleagues in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

Another proof of the special love of the ancient people for moose is the many images of moose in this region - images that are several thousand years old. A huge image of a moose, reminiscent of the Nazca lines in Peru, was discovered in Siberia thanks to the Google Earth service. The age of this image remains unknown. To be honest, in fact, this drawing may be a depiction of a deer, however, given its size, doubts are well founded.

In November, the Russia Beyond newspaper reported that the moose petroglyph found in the Khabarovsk Territory is about 12 thousand years old.

South Oleniy Island is currently a tiny island, and it was also so during the late Mesolithic era. According to archaeologists, 8,200 years ago (the approximate age of the necropolis) this island was about 700 meters wide and about 2.5 kilometers long. There were two small hills, and the burial ground where the burials of 177 men, women (together they made up 87%) and children (13%) were found was on the northern slope of the highest hill.

It should be added that modern industry destroyed the fate of this necropolis, that is, it was initially much larger, although we do not know how much.

On this island, deceased people were buried, interred, which was typical for burials of the late Stone Age in Scandinavia, the Baltic States and north-west Russia. Usually the dead - at least the wealthiest of them - were placed in the graves along with the funeral equipment. The quality of this inventory usually served as an indicator of the deceased's status: the more items there were and the more rare they were, the richer and more influential the deceased was.

Let me give you an example: about 12 thousand years ago, in the territory of modern Israel, a small elderly and sick woman was buried along with many different animals (50 turtles, parts of a wild boar carcass, an eagle, a cow, a leopard and two martens, as well as a human foot). Archaeologists believe she was a shaman.

On the island of South Deer, the bodies of the deceased were covered with red ocher, and among the objects found near them were various tools made of bones and stone, arrowheads, spears and, mainly, teeth, in which holes were made so that they could be worn on lace.

The ancients there also wore the teeth of beavers, deer, wolves, dogs and boars, but in general, much less such teeth were found. Archaeologists have also found figurines depicting people and animals.

However, half of the finds on the island are moose teeth.

Teeth necklaces are forever

No clothes can survive, having lain underground for several millennia, but, according to archaeologists, the ancient people wore moose teeth not only on the neck, but also sewed them on clothes, as well as on belts and hats, as evidenced by the location of the teeth in the graves … Analysis of microscopic wear indicates that people wore these pendants all the time, as evidenced by finds in Lithuania. That is, the teeth were used not only for funerals.

Pendants made from animal teeth found elsewhere in the region and dating back to the late Stone Age most often had holes to be worn on a lace - rather than the grooves and indentations that are needed to hold them. could be tied.

Elk teeth found on Yuzhny Oleniy Island, which were processed, were processed in a similar way. Some teeth had one or more grooves cut closer to the root, and some teeth had through holes.

"The uniformity - in the choice of the animal, its teeth and processing technologies - indicates that there were some strict norms in terms of decorations," the scientists write, although they still point to many differences, for example, in the depth of the grooves and so on.

Such uniformity can theoretically be explained by ritualism in the production process or even by the optimality of certain methods of processing teeth. Differences in the accuracy of processing - from carefully carved grooves to carelessly made holes - could depend on the character traits of a particular person or on his preparation, that is, the "students" at first made substandard pendants from elk teeth. It is rather difficult to judge specific motives when it comes to events that took place 8 thousand years ago.

Archaeologists also noticed that many of the graves were dominated by teeth that were processed by one method, which may indicate the personal tastes of their owner or even what family he belonged to - for example, my family members have two grooves on moose teeth, and yours has three. Archaeologists note that people living in these places today try to bury members of one family nearby and are very serious about violating the boundaries of another family. “If, for example, someone accidentally buried a relative on the territory belonging to another family, or even just stepped on it, it was customary to kill such violators before,” archaeologists write in their 2015 work. However, careful analysis did not confirm the "familial character" hypothesis of the grooves.

It can be assumed that the grooves were cut in the teeth so that they could be tied with the laces on which these "pendants" hung, especially if people did not have the tools to make through holes. However, so far this hypothesis has no evidence, since, as scientists write, they failed to connect the character of the grooves with specific decorations, type of clothing and the location of the teeth.

Meanwhile, ancient people could use moose teeth to distinguish between groups of long-dead inhabitants of the island. Undoubtedly, on this island, people preferred to cut grooves rather than punch holes, which is much more difficult, because there is a high probability of breaking a tooth. Perhaps in different families there were different techniques for cutting grooves, which required a certain level of skill. Or, perhaps, belonging to a particular family did not matter, and the nature of the dental treatment was determined by purely practical factors.

Admire, kill, fry

The grooves were not always cut on the widest, that is, the most convenient side of the moose tooth, which would be the easiest. “In many graves, grooves were cut on the narrow side of the tooth, and the unstable position of the tooth made this work difficult. Perhaps the master processed the teeth in this way, so that later they would be tied in a certain position,”said Riitta Rainio.

Why did archaeologists find such a large number of elk teeth, and not, for example, a bear, a wolf or a dog? Dogs have certainly been domesticated in this region, although the extent of their closeness to humans is still unknown.

The reason may be that hunter-gatherers in this region may have treated this animal with awe. “Elk was the most important animal in the ideology and beliefs of the ancient hunter-gatherers of the Eurasian forest belt, and the limited availability made elk teeth a particularly valuable material in the eyes of ancient hunters,” archaeologists wrote. There is also an element of rarity here: moose have quite a few teeth - eight incisors, six permanent teeth on the lower jaw and two permanent scissor-shaped canines.

And one last remark. The graves where most of the teeth were found did not belong to venerable community elders or children. Most elk teeth were found in the graves of young women and adult men of sexual maturity. Archaeologists also found graves where there were no elk teeth, but there were other items that children and old people might need in the afterlife.

In addition, bear's fangs, which were also apparently used as pendants, were handled differently: some had grooves, others had through holes, and some had nothing. This led scientists to conclude that moose, or at least their teeth, were of particular importance to ancient people - perhaps in some way related to sexual maturity, as evidenced by some ancient images of moose found in the region. However, this did not prevent people from eating elk meat - which in ancient times was fried over a fire, killing an elk with a club or a spear, and later began to be served with gravy and a glass of red wine.

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