A reindeer. Credit: Wallpaperscraft

12,000-Year-Old Engraved Reindeer Antler May Be One of the Oldest Gifts in the World

(Read the article on one page)

Found in Central Poland but originating from northern Scandinavia or north-western Russia, an engraved reindeer antler has piqued researchers interest. The reasons behind its long journey, purpose, and implications regarding social contact between hunter-gatherer groups in the area 12,000 years ago are all significant. An added element of interest is that researchers believe it was meant as a sort of spiritual gift from one population to another.

The engraved reindeer antler. One of the oldest gifts in the world?

The engraved reindeer antler. One of the oldest gifts in the world? Source: Osipowicz et al

According to IBTimes UK , the artifact is known as a bâton percé (perforated baton). It measures approximately 30 cm (12 inches) long and about 2-3cm (1-1.5 inches) in diameter. A line of triangular patterns is engraved on the artifact and a large hole is present at one end. These features hint at the artifact having had some special value to its creators.

Drawing of the engraved reindeer antler.

Drawing of the engraved reindeer antler. ( Osipowicz et al )

The exact function of the artifact is uncertain. As the lead researcher in the current study, Dr. Grzegorz Osipowicz, told MailOnline :

“The function of bâtons percé is still not clear. Many hypotheses have been put forward in this regard, starting with function connected with ritual sphere, through straighteners of points and harpoons, simple mattocks or tools used for fixing ropes in huts.”

An example of a Magdalenian era bâton percé found in France.

An example of a Magdalenian era bâton percé found in France. ( CC BY 3.0 )

The antler was discovered in 2013 at Gołębiewo in Central Poland. This is the first time a reindeer antler from that period has been found in Eastern Europe, which set off some bells for researchers. Furthermore, no other artifacts or evidence of a settlement were found during excavations, which certainly made researchers curious about its origins.

The recent study shows the engraved antler was found at least 1,000 miles (1,600 km) south of its proposed creation site – possibly the North Karelia region of western Finland or South Lapland. The antler source species and its geographic origin were discovered through DNA and stable isotope analyses. Radio carbon dating placed the artifact to roughly 12,000 years old.

Autumn scenery in Koli National Park. North Karelia region, Finland.

Autumn scenery in Koli National Park. North Karelia region, Finland. (Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho/ CC BY 2.0 )

Phys.org reports that part of the significance of the find is that the antler suggest goods could have been exchanged by hunter-gatherer groups across large distances in the Early Holocence. Osipowicz explained ,

“The route taken for transporting the Rangifer tarandus antler from nearby North Karelia to Central Poland, and the motive for transporting it, remain impossible to determine conclusively. However, the obtained results are the first direct evidence for the flow of goods between hunter-gatherer groups in the Early Holocene at such a great distance.”

A reindeer with a sleigh in Kuusamo Lapland.

A reindeer with a sleigh in Kuusamo Lapland. (Heather Sunderland/ CC BY 2.0 )

There are few known examples of gift exchanges over such large distances during that time. Moreover, the exchange of goods between hunter-gatherer groups living so far apart probably mean that ideas were also exchanged and bonds could have been formed. Similar flint making techniques suggest that social contact may have been possible between populations from the distinct areas at that time.

But Osipowicz told MailOnline the act of gifting the antler could have held more importance than simply social or trade connections:

“The process of these gift exchanges was unlikely a simple exchange of products. It is believed they were sanctioned by a number of principles that strongly link the individuals or groups on a social and often spiritual level.”

Chart of the three worlds in ancient Sámi spirituality.

Chart of the three worlds in ancient Sámi spirituality. ( Mulk & Bayliss-Smith 2006: 96 )  Reindeer are one aspect of the traditional spiritual beliefs of this indigenous group.

The researchers also suggest that the gifting may not have been routine, saying that the Scandinavian group that gave the bâton percé may have only encountered the southern group during a rite of passage trip.

The results of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE by Grzegorz Osipowicz and colleagues at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland. The engraved antler is currently located in the Fr. Dr Władysław Łęga Museum in Grudziądz, Poland.

Top Image: A reindeer. Credit: Wallpaperscraft

By Alicia McDermott

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Myths & Legends

Open Book Photo
A legend is a tale regarded as historical even though it has not been proven, and the term “myth” can refer to common yet false ideas. Many myths and legends describe our history, but they are often treated skeptically. This is because many of them, while explaining a phenomenon, involve divine or supernatural beings.

Human Origins

Sky Burial: Tibet’s Ancient Tradition for Honoring the Dead
The tradition of Sky burials, which is also known by the name of ‘Celestial burial’, is particularly associated with the Tibetan culture, although it has existed in other civilizations throughout history.

Ancient Technology

Opinion

The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article