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.

Human Origins

Adam and Eve (1640s) by Jacob Jordaens.
The common male and female ancestors of human beings are popularly known as “Genetic Adam” and “Genetic Eve.” A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield claims all men can trace their origins to one male ancestor, ‘Adam’, who lived approximately 209,000 years ago. This places ‘Adam’ within the same time frame as ‘Eve’ - the ‘mother of all women’ – and provides evidence for the existence of a prehistoric ‘Adam and Eve.’

Ancient Places

The eerie mansion that is today known as Loftus Hall.
Driving along the isolated road that runs down the scenic Hook Peninsula in Ireland’s Ancient East, it is easy to spot the mansion that has earned itself the reputation as the most haunted house in Ireland. If ever a building fit the stereotype of a home haunted by its bloody and tragic past, this was it...

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