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Old ravers

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Auditory archaeologists discover that elk teeth make max noise.

According to Finnish archaeologist Riitta Rainio of the University of Helsinki, pendants made from elk teeth suspended or sown onto clothing are noisy when you move. Rainio is what is called an “auditory archaeologist”, an emerging expertise that has been tested out at Stonehenge, on Maya ruins, and in the Andes. She points out that the rattlers make it easier for you to immerse yourself in the dance, for the sound and rhythm take control of your movements. She knows of which she speaks, for she danced continuously wearing elk teeth ornaments for no fewer than six hours (for research purposes). The ornaments worn by Rainio and a colleague were made exactly like the Stone Age originals, so they could study the wear on them. The rattlers either sounded clear and bright, or loud and pounding. Apart from the intensity of movement, everything depended on the number and quality of the teeth.

The prototypes for the ornaments came from four graves excavated from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov in northwestern Russia, the largest Mesolithic cemetery in Europe, dating to between 7000 and 6200 BC. Russian microwear specialist Evgeny Girya of the Russian Academy of Sciences compared the markings on the modern ornaments with examples from the Mesolithic cemetery and found that they were identical to those on those worn by Rainio. Those on the Mesolithic examples were deeper and more extensive, which is logical, given that the ornaments were treasured for many years. More than half the burials in the cemetery had elk tooth ornaments: dancing with elk was apparently a fashionable custom.

Image: Artist’s impression of adult male from grave 76a in Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov, drawn as if during a dance session, with 140 elk teeth on his chest, waist, pelvis and thighs. (Drawing by Tom Bjorklund, University of Helsinki, research published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal )

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