In Potok Cave in Eastern Slovenia a needle was found that was made between 41,000 and 47,000 years ago. And in Liaoning Province in China needles were found that were between 23,000 and 30,000 years old.
These needles were made of splintered bone and in some cases ivory.
You might not realize it at first but just the simple existence of a needle that old says something marvelous about these humans.
These people had a distinct sense of a kind of future. To be able to look past the bloody butchering, where they doubtlessly got slathered in tallow, to think something like “keep these bones because they will dry soon and we’ll be able to use them.” takes astonishing forethought.
Then to shatter open the bones to get out the marrow and pick out shards of bones that might suit your task. Or did they have a tool that made bone shards more regular sized? I don’t know!
And then to think that you’d need even finer tools to make an aperture in the bone so you could sew with it. And thread made fine enough to fit into the hole!
And then to conceive of sewing is its own wonder no matter how simple. Was it just skins roughly stitched together? Was it fibers fastened by the simplest sinew string? Was it for threading beads? We know they made and used beads.
All of this is a boggling mystery to me but also a wonder that these humans obviously valued the clothing or the beading or the material so much that all this remarkable skill, labor, and envisioning took place. And how could they have not seen that animal as intrinsic to all of that? As just as valuable? The clothing must have been that important, the beads must have been that critical, that beautiful, that these signs of the animal would last long past the meat ever would. They might have not even made a deep distinction – the deer was having a second life as a worn and stitched skin. The bison lived on as sinew that held the beads on a string. We find that kind of language in many indigenous peoples speaking about ceremonial items that came from animals. Maybe these people thought something similar. Maybe.
So it is astonishing that three years ago a nearly three inch bone needle, made from the bone of a large and yet unidentified bird, was found in a cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia that is 50,000 years old. And not made by humans but by Denisovans a pre-human relative.
So every thing that was just written about our human ancestors must have been true for those Denisovans. They had the same sharded bone, the same finely worked auger to make the hole in the splinter of bone. They must have had a similar thoughts and similar skills. And a similar understanding of where things come from and the cost of having new things.