Archaeologists have announced the discovery of a 50,000-year-old sewing needle, made from bone, that was excavated from a cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains. This well-preserved sewing implement sports a hole for guiding the thread, and is still appears to be sharp enough to be used today. This artifact, however, has an unusual distinction, in that it is suspected that it was not crafted by a human hand.
The cave that the 7 centimeter (2.75 inch) needle was recovered from is home to the only known remains of an extinct form of human called the Denisovans. Found in 2010, a single fingerbone excavated from the cave underwent genetic testing, only to find that the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of the individual that it belonged to was quite distinct from both modern humans and Neanderthals, indicating that this was a separate species altogether. Further testing, from samples taken from two teeth and a toe bone, indicated that they shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals, and that they interbred with humans and Neanderthals. But otherwise, very little is known about these mysterious cousins of ours.
The needle itself is finely made, with the thread hole having been bored by a high-speed implement, rather than having been crudely dug out. The hole is also notched, allowing for a space for the thread to tuck in behind the needle while it is being passed though the fabric — this artifact is evidently the product of a practiced technique.
While other needles suspected to have been made by the Denisovans have been found in the cave, this one was recovered from a strata at least 10,000 years older than where the others were found. In 2008, a 40,000 year-old, finely-made bracelet made from green chlorite was recovered, suggesting to the researchers that the Denisovans were more technologically advanced than their human and Neanderthal contemporaries.q