Two matching sets of tail-shaped bone earrings carved by our ancient ancestors are the oldest examples of jewelry adornments ever found in North America, according to a team of Alaskan archaeologists.
The items, which were unearthed at the Mead site between Fairbanks and Delta Junction, AK, offer a rare glimpse at the importance of self-adornment in ancient cultures and reveal the skills and artistry employed to put them together.
The artifacts are approximately 12,000 years old, according to Barbara Crass, director of Shaw Creek Archaeological Research. “Outside of a few beads there’s nothing else that age and artistic in the New World or at least North America,” she told newsminer.com.
Each earring of the larger set measures approximately 4mm wide, while the smaller earrings are about half that size.
While the materials and designs may seem unsophisticated, Crass contends they were advanced for their time period when primitive man was first developing pottery and ground stone tools.
In a press release, Crass described the smaller of the earring sets as “elegant inverted V-shapes designed for suspension. They have tiny serrations on the interior edges of the V and delicate cross-hatching along the outer edges, possibly representing stylized bird tails.”
Working with researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Shaw Creek team has been unearthing artifacts from the Mead site since 2009. The earrings were actually found in 2013, but Crass decided to hold off on the announcement for a year in the hope of finding additional jewelry items in 2014. When they didn’t materialize, the team opted to go public with what they had, reported newsminer.com.
According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Office of History & Archaeology, the Mead site is one of three archaeological sites in Alaska that have yielded data to show that a broad-based hunting and foraging economy was practiced in this area at the end of the last ice age.
These sites contain artifacts directly associated with extinct mammals, such as wapiti, bison and mammoth, and provide new clues about human adaptation to environmental change.
(Earrings photo: Barbara Crass, Shaw Creek Archaeological Research; Dig photo: Alaska Department of Natural Resources.)