The World’s Oldest Sewing Needle Was Discovered in a Siberian Cave

August 25, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Needle and thread
Photo credit: David Goehring/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

50,000-year-old bone needle was crafted by an extinct species of human.

Long before us modern humans were sewing stray buttons back onto our pants, the Denisovans — an extinct species of human — were no strangers to a needle and thread. The Siberian Times reports the discovery of the world’s oldest needle in Siberia’s Denisova Cave, dating back roughly 50,000 years.

The Denisovans fashioned the 2 ¾ inch (7 centimeter) needle, complete with a hole for thread carved through the top, out of bird bone.

“It is the longest needle found in Denisova cave,” Maksim Kozlikin, head of the excavations at Denisova cave, tells The Siberian Times. It is also the most ancient: “We have found needles before, but in 'younger' (archaeological) layers,” he says.


Screen capture from The Siberian Times Twitter

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In 2008, a bracelet made of polished green stone dating back 40,000 years was also discovered in the cave. Scientists determined the manufacturing process used to make the bracelet would have been similar to much more recent jewellery-making methods, indicating that the Denisovans were technologically advanced.

A trio of hominins — Denisovans, Neanderthals, and modern humans — inhabited the cave at one time or another. The scientists assume that the Denisovans crafted the needle, as it was found in the same layer as Denisovan fossils, which consist of a finger and two molars in total.

Though these are the only remnants of the species, DNA analysis from these fossils suggests that the Denisovans lived throughout Asia, and further, that they interbred with the ancestors of certain modern human groups, including Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians.

Read next: What Was for Dinner 250,000 Years Ago?

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