Three decades ago, a trio of giant sloth bone artifacts were discovered in Brazil, and have only recently been thoroughly investigated.
In an exciting new development, scientists have determined that these bones served as pendants, with small holes presumably drilled by prehistoric humans for ornamental use, according to a study released this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society journal.
Dated between 25,000 and 27,000 years ago, these bone pendants hold the record as the oldest known personal adornments found in the Americas, as reported by Katie Hunt of CNN. This discovery bolsters the argument that human habitation in South America predates previously established estimates.
Mirian Liza Alves Forancelli Pacheco, an archaeologist at Brazil's Federal University of São Carlos and one of the study's authors, stated to the Associated Press's Christina Larson, "We have compelling evidence, in conjunction with findings from other sites in South and North America, that compels us to reevaluate our understanding of human migration to the Americas."
The bone pendants originated from the protective, armadillo-like plates found beneath the fur of giant sloths. Thaís Pansani, the lead researcher on the project, determined from the bone markings that humans were the most likely creatures to have drilled holes into these plates.
The research also suggests that these pendants were fashioned shortly after the sloths' deaths, indicating a cohabitation period between humans and these giant creatures.
With an impressive length of 10 to 13 feet and a weight exceeding 1,000 pounds, giant sloths were protected by the aforementioned plates under their fur, and these were the plates into which holes were drilled, Pacheco told the New York Times’ Franz Lidz. It was as if they were created with the express purpose of being strung onto a necklace.
For many years, the scientific consensus held that humans migrated to the Americas via a land bridge from Russia to Alaska around 15,000 years ago. However, this new study, alongside a growing body of research, suggests an earlier human arrival. For instance, in 2021, fossilized human footprints dated between 21,000 and 23,000 years old were found in New Mexico. The current study pushes this timeline even further back.
Despite some contention in the scientific community about the accuracy of these dating methods, lead author Thaís Pansani remains hopeful, telling Kristina Killgrove of Live Science that many sites in South America are still unexplored.
Pansani expressed optimism about uncovering additional evidence in Brazil's under-explored rock shelters and caves, adding, "We believe that there should be more evidence waiting to be found."
The potential implications of this study have garnered optimism from many in the research community.