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Adult male from grave 76a in Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov drawn as if he were alive during a dance session with 140 elk teeth on his chest, waist, pelvis, and thighs rattling rhythmically and loudly.

8,000-Year-Old Elk Teeth “Dancing Rattlers” Are Recreated

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Imagine this: 8,000-years-ago ancient hunters ritualistically danced wearing rattling elk teeth to enhance their hypnotic states of consciousness. Now, a Finish researcher has recreated an ancient elk tooth rattle and danced while wearing it for six hours, thereby accessing the soundscape of the ancient world.

The researcher recreated the 8,000-year-old ritual clothing and after a “six-hour dance” revealed that the dancing teeth marks matched the marks found on the clothing. What this means, according to the author of a new paper, is that with elk teeth tied around their bodies, “rattling percussively as they moved,” Stone Age humans danced in “a strange psychedelic way.”

Believe it or not, the oldest artifact ever found in Eurasia is an elk tooth pendant. It was discovered in the Altai region of Russia in an Denisovan cave. And now we know that elk teeth dances were practiced as far away as the eastern edges of modern-day Finland. (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography)

Believe it or not, the oldest artifact ever found in Eurasia is an elk tooth pendant. It was discovered in the Altai region of Russia in an Denisovan cave. And now we know that elk teeth dances were practiced as far away as the eastern edges of modern-day Finland. ( Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography )

Elk Teeth Dances And Sounds For Altered Auditory States

A study of 8,000-year-old elk teeth discovered at the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov burial site in Russia has been published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal . Study lead author, Professor Riitta Rainio from the University of Helsinki in Finland discovered the unusual ritual dance practice after analyzing not only where the elk teeth were found in the 8,000-year-old grave, but also the types of wear marks on the teeth. In conclusion, the researcher says the teeth functioned as “rattlers.” So, when they were suspended from clothing they emitted a loud rattling noise.

To put the rattlers in context, picture “that uncle” at the end of the wedding dance, flooded in purple light, finger pointing to the air, foot stomping, murmuring the wrong words to Oasis’ “ Wonderful” as alcohol and good times surge through his wobbling frame. Eight thousand years ago, without a mobile DJ spinning the wheels of steel, ancient hunters had to make their own instruments and entertainment. This is where rattling elk teeth come in.

The researchers noted that wearing elk teeth rattlers while dancing made it easier for the Stone Age ravers “to immerse themselves in the soundscape, letting the sound and rhythm 'take control’” (ref that Wonderwall singing uncle).

Elk teeth, thousands of them, were used by the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov culture to make their unique elk teeth pendants and rattle outfits for dances. (Alexandra / Adobe Stock)

Elk teeth, thousands of them, were used by the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov culture to make their unique elk teeth pendants and rattle outfits for dances. ( Alexandra / Adobe Stock)

Majority of Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov Burials Had Elk Teeth

A total of 177 graves have been found in the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov burial site, of which more than half contain several elk tooth ornaments, some of which comprised over 300 animal teeth .

The elk teeth suit discovered at the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov burial site in Russia was “suspected” of having played an acoustic function in the ancient society that used it. However, to “prove” this artist Juha Valkeapää recreated an elk teeth dance suit. Then, the lead researcher wore it while “dancing for six consecutive hours.”.

The microscopic marks left on the teeth, which were worn down by the intense dancing, were analyzed after the dancing and then compared to the findings made in the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov graves by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Russian researcher Evgeny Girya documented and analyzed the wear marks in the elk teeth found in four graves chosen for the experiment by comparing the “chips, hollows, cuts and smoothed surfaces of the teeth.” The professor observed a distinctive resemblance between teeth worn out by dancing (by the modern lead researcher) and the Stone Age elk teeth discovered within the graves.

A total of 90 elk teeth were placed next to the hips and thighs of a female skeleton, possibly attached to a garment resembling an apron for elk tooth dances, found in northwestern Russia. This painting shows what the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov woman may have looked like when she died. (Tom Bjorklund / University of Helsinki)

A total of 90 elk teeth were placed next to the hips and thighs of a female skeleton, possibly attached to a garment resembling an apron for elk tooth dances, found in northwestern Russia. This painting shows what the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov woman may have looked like when she died. (Tom Bjorklund / University of Helsinki )

Measuring Ancient Ritual Dance Intensity And Other Things

Knowing the way elk teeth clatter, bang and shatter, the researchers suggest the ancient wearers “danced in a strange 'psychedelic way' with elk teeth tied around their bodies, ratting percussively as they moved.”

An article in the Daily Mail explains “a tooth rattler can be clear and bright or loud and pounding depending on the number and quality of the teeth.” Furthermore, the researcher said another variable which affected the marks left on the elk skin by the teeth was the “intensity of movement” during the dance.

In a Science Times article researcher Kristiina Mannermaan from the University of Helsinki praised the new study saying the findings significantly add to what is known about this Stone Age culture .

But where this research is so cool is that it goes way beyond physical artifacts into the lost soundscapes of prehistory.

Mannermann added that the sound of elk tooth rattlers “transported modern people to a soundscape that is thousands of years old. You can close your eyes, listen to the sound of the rattlers and drift on the soundwaves to a lakeside campfire in the world of Stone Age hunter-gatherers .” (ref that uncle at the wedding).

Top image: Adult male from grave 76a in Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov drawn as if he were alive during a dance session with 140 elk teeth on his chest, waist, pelvis, and thighs rattling rhythmically and loudly.        Source: Tom Bjorklund / University of Helsinki

By Ashley Cowie

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