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Archaeo News 

28 May 2005
Rare teeth as Stone Age status symbols

It seems that rare animal teeth served as Stone Age status symbols. Archaeologists excavating the grave of a woman nicknamed the Lady of Saint-Germain-la-Rivière who lived in France approximately 15,570 years ago, found beads, bone implements, stone tools and 71 red deer canine teeth. The grave is located east of Bordeaux on the bank of the Dordogne in France.
     The red deer teeth may have been an exotic possession for Upper Paleolithic societies, suggesting that these hunter-gatherers may have recognized privilege and prestige.
     The research, funded by the European Science Foundation, appears in the current Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Lead author, Marian Vanhaeren, told Discover News, "Upper Paleolithic societies are traditionally considered egalitarian. Our study shows instead that in some of them, only some individuals had access to exotic prestige items acquired through long distance exchange."
     The closest deer herds were in the Spanish Basque country and the Languedoc Piedmont area, more than 186 miles from the grave area. Archaeologists think the woman, or a generous relative or friend, acquired the teeth by hunting red deer in remote areas, or through trade.
     John O’Shea, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan has conducted similar excavations and says that red deer teeth were in high demand during prehistoric times. He says deer teeth symbolized hunting and one’s ability to provide for others.
     Notched lines decorated the Lady’s deer teeth. A flint tool had been used to chip a hole out of each tooth. Vanhaeren believes the teeth could have been strung and worn as a necklace or embroidered onto clothing. Past research has documented hunter-gatherers as wearing decorated beads, shells and teeth from hunted animals such as bear and beaver.
     O’Shea thinks these teeth may have even been used as a sort of savings account of value to be used in one’s older age in exchange for food and necessities. "It is easy to imagine how the effort taken to acquire and manufacture such ornaments could come to represent congealed value," O’Shea said. "The acquisition and display of such ornaments would mark an invididual as both economically and spiritually powerful by virtue of the ability to successfully hunt and provide."

Source: Discovery News (24 May 2005)

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