46,000-Year-Old Kangaroo Bone Ornament is Oldest Bone Jewelry Ever Found

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The oldest known piece of bone jewelry attributed to Homo sapiens has been excavated in the Kimberley region of northern Australia by archaeologists at the Australian National University (ANU). This discovery is considered to be very important on many levels since it reshapes what is known about the first inhabitants in Oceania, as it demonstrates that their craftsmanship equaled those in Africa and Europe during the same period.

The bone ornament. Credit: Australian National University

The Aboriginal Peoples in Australia

There are more than five hundred different Aboriginal peoples in Australia, each with their own language and territory and usually made up of a large number of separate clans. Archaeologists believe that the Aboriginals first came to the Australian continent around 50,000 or 60,000 years ago, a theory that looks quite possible, especially after the recent discovery of the rare piece of Indigenous jewelry in the country. However, Aboriginals themselves trace their origin back to the Dreamtime, an era long past when the earth was first formed. According to the Aboriginal traditions and beliefs ,

By Dreaming we mean the belief that long ago these creatures started human society, they made all natural things and put them in a special place. These Dreaming creatures were connected to special places and special roads or tracks or paths. In many places the great creatures changed themselves into sites where their spirits stayed. Aboriginals have a special connection with everything that is natural. Aboriginals see themselves as part of nature … All things on earth we see as part human. It is true that people who belong to a particular area are really part of that area and if that area is destroyed they are also destroyed.

Aboriginal language map

Aboriginal language map

The Significance of the Discovery of this 46,000 Years-Old Nose-Bone Ornament

The five-inch-long ornament made from the leg bone of a kangaroo that was recently unearthed in Australia, however, seems to verify the theories of historians when it comes to the African heritage of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. It is believed to be the oldest-known piece of Indigenous jewelry ever found in Australia, and indeed the world. Archaeologists claim that this piece of jewelry is more than 46,000 years old, and was worn through the nose of one of Australia’s earliest inhabitants.

Other than verifying their origin, this extraordinary discovery now debunks the idea that that bone tool-making was lost during the journey from Africa to Australia and took thousands of years to re-emerge, suggesting the craft instead caught on soon after arrival. Dr Michelle Langley of the ANU School of Culture, History, and Language said, “We know people had bone tools in Africa at least 75,000 years ago. Some of these people were leaving Africa around the same time and arrived in Australia some 60,000 years ago. Until very recently the earliest bone tools we had found in Australia dated to be about 20,000 years ago, so there has been a 40,000 year gap.” And continues, “Some people believed that the knowledge of bone tool making was lost on the journey between Africa and Australia. With this find, however, we now know they were making bone tools soon after arriving in Australia. This artifact was found below a deposit dated to 46,000 years ago, so it is older than that date.”

Portrait of an aboriginal boy with a nose piercing from the early 20th Century Image via Webb’s.

Portrait of an aboriginal boy with a nose piercing from the early 20th Century Image via  Webb’s.

The Location and Nature of the Jewelry Makes It Special

Dr. Langley stated that the location and nature of this artifact is what makes it a unique and extraordinary discovery . “Organic based items like this don’t survive in the north Australian archaeological record very often, so it’s a very unusual find,” she said.

This work resulted from an Australian Research Council Linkage grant awarded to Professor Sue O’Connor. The same project previously unearthed fragments from the world’s oldest-known ground-edge axe.

Top image: Aboriginal man with a bone septum piercing. Credit: National Library of Australia

By Theodoros II



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