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  • Writer's pictureDakila News

Recent Analysis Suggests Giant Sloth Bones Were Worn as Pendants by Humans Over 25,000 Years Ago

In a recent breakthrough, findings indicate that bones from giant sloths were utilized as pendants by human beings over 25,000 years ago. A collaborative effort among researchers from Brazil, France, the United States, and Ireland scrutinized artifacts uncovered at the archaeological site of Santa Elina in Mato Grosso. These revelations have been documented in the esteemed British journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B."

The central focus of the published article revolves around the discovery of bones belonging to a giant sloth species. The researchers have proposed the intriguing hypothesis that these ancient humans used these bones as body adornments due to the presence of accompanying tools and distinctive markings on some of the remains. Furthermore, this remarkable find may challenge the established timeline for human habitation in South America, pushing it back earlier than previously assumed by conventional scientific thought.

Santa Elina, the archaeological site under scrutiny, has gained renown for its rich collection of cave paintings, with investigations having taken place there since 1985. Notably, the remains of a giant sloth and thousands of osteoderms—bony plates embedded within the animal's skin—were unearthed within a cavern.

The uncovered data strongly suggests that the highlighted species is Glossotherium phoenesis, a giant sloth weighing approximately 600 kilograms, which was relatively common in Brazil before its extinction. Due to its herbivorous nature, there is no basis to suggest confrontations between these sloths and the humans of that era.

Three of these osteoderms were meticulously examined for the article due to the observed alterations, which strongly indicate human intervention. As researcher Mírian Pacheco explains, "At first glance, they present a highly suggestive pendant-like form, particularly due to the polish, which in some cases even alters the shape of the osteoderm, along with the presence of perforations."

osteodermo polido com um orifício circular na ponta direita
Foto: Thaís Pansani

Archaeologist Suzana Hirooka emphasized the rarity of discovering human artifacts from this time period, let alone objects used as accessories. Additionally, microscopic marks were found, indicating that the bones had been manually polished before fossilization.

Paleontologist Carlos Cisneiros elucidates, "We can determine this because a fresh bone possesses different chemical and physical properties from a fossil. It is more mineralized, heavier, and fractures differently. Breaking, scraping, and piercing the bone leave distinct marks."

Throughout the study, Pacheco noted, "The data from electronic and photoluminescence microscopy allowed us to distinguish different types of marks that aided us in concluding that the marks attributed to humans were made on fresh bones, or at least before the carcass was interred." Furthermore, certain marks that suggested regular contact with surfaces were indicative of these artifacts being used as adornments.

Figura 3 do artigo, mostrando as marcas antrópicas por meio de diferentes metodologias
Figura 3 do artigo, mostrando as marcas antrópicas por meio de diferentes metodologias

The researcher also underscored the impossibility of definitively ascertaining the precise significance of these artifacts to the ancient people of Santa Elina. The varied shapes and quantities of the osteoderms may have spurred the creation of these distinctive items.

Due to the fragility of the findings, direct dating of the pendants was not feasible. Therefore, using sediment, charcoal, and other giant sloth bones from the same sedimentary layer, researchers estimated the material's age to be 25,000 years.

This dating serves as compelling evidence that humans and giant sloths coexisted in the South American continent, with this period coinciding with the Last Glacial Maximum, also known as the last ice age. Another indication of their coexistence lies in the short time span between the sloths' demise and the modification of their bones. This is crucial in understanding that these alterations occurred prior to fossilization, thus ruling out the possibility of these humans belonging to a later era.

Ilustração mostra  a possível confecção dos pingente com ossos de preguiça gigante
Ilustração mostra a possível confecção dos pingente com ossos de preguiça gigante — Foto: Júlia D'Oliveira

This study also prompts a revision of history by demonstrating that many megafauna species were not wiped out in Brazil until around 10,000 years ago. This challenges the widely accepted hypothesis that Homo sapiens rapidly eradicated these species. The new study's data indicates that humans and these megafauna coexisted for at least 15,000 years.

It is commonly understood that North and South America were the last continents inhabited by modern humans. Despite conflicts in precise dating among scholars, the prevailing theory suggests their arrival around 13,000 to 15,000 years ago via the Bering Strait. "However, there are numerous archaeological sites in North and South America that suggest humans were here much earlier," countered study paleontologist Thaís Pansani.

In addition to the Mato Grosso study, the discovery of human footprints dating back 23,000 years in Mexico further supports Pansani's argument. Moreover, the analysis of these pendants is now considered one of the most direct pieces of evidence linking humans and Ice Age megafauna in Brazil.

Such indications of these interactions are exceedingly rare, owing to a multitude of factors as explained by Pacheco. "The first factor is weathering: the tropical region's humidity and vegetation can impair bone preservation. For example, the giant sloth bones from Santa Elina are extremely fragile, prone to crumbling when handled. The osteoderms, being more robust, are better preserved."

Another reason is the limited number of researchers in this field in the country, along with the complexity of conducting necessary analyses to establish behaviors of the time, such as hunting and consuming megafauna by humans.



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