Around 6,000 years back, agrarian-hunter communities in the northeast of Europe masterfully produced manufactured slate ring ornaments in huge quantities. While these adornments are normally referred to as “slate rings”, they were seldom utilized as intact rings. Rather, the trimmings were fragmented deliberately, using bits and pieces of rings as tokens. These fragments were further processed into pendants.
These fragments have undoubtedly served as symbols or social relations from the Stone Age agrarian-hunters. This means the fragmentation of ornaments was purposeful. As most archaeological material is found in a fragmented state, the peculiarity has been viewed as a natural consequence of objects having been buried deep underground for quite some time. However, according to Postdoctoral Researcher Marja Ahola from the University of Helsinki, not all of the items have necessarily been broken by chance.
By matching bits and pieces of slate ring ornaments, analyzing their genetic composition and exploring traces of the manufacture and use in the items, an exploration team at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku showed that the adornments had not exclusively been worn out, but also broken purposefully.
Instead, it is conceivable that some were fragmented deliberately as part of maintaining and showing social relations, ceremonial activities, or bartering. The examination, having been completed, has shown that a significant number of ornaments have been found in extensive and central locations. As a portion of the ornaments originate from the Lake Onega region and have been transported to Finland through a large trade network, it is possible that they represent the connections established inside the network.
Slate rigns were rarely used as intact rings in the Stone Age. Instead, the ornaments were fragmented on purpose and most likely served as symbols of the social relations of hunter-gatherers. #archaeology #stoneage @HYhumtdk @MarjaAhola https://t.co/k09UgEdhqT
— University of Helsinki (@helsinkiuni) April 27, 2022
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Because pieces from the same ornaments were found in two separate areas, it is thought that they were both worn by two different individuals. One more sign of this is the fact that one of the fragments had been chipped away at more finely than the other.
“What we see here may be one way of maintaining connection between the living and the dead. This is also the first clear material connection between a certain place of residence and a burial site. In other words, the people who lived there most likely buried their dead in a site close to them,” Ahola explains.
The handprints help to tell the story as a similar connection was found in slate ring ornaments made during the same assembling process, one of which was found in a settlement-site context and the other in a burial site which was explored close to the settlement.
“These fragments of the same object may show the handprint and preferences of two individuals. Perhaps they wore the ornaments as a symbol of a connection established,” Ahola muses.
An X-ray fluorescence examination (XRF) of a little more than 50 slate ring ornaments showed that a portion of the fragments or ornaments had been imported from Lake Onega region, Russia, hundreds of kilometers from the site where they were found. XRF examinations can be utilized to determine the element focuses and raw materials of inorganic archaeological materials with an exceptionally high precision. The same technique can be applied as a completely non-intrusive surface investigation, which makes it impeccably suited for the study of archaeological objects.
“There was also variation in the chemical composition of the objects, which correlates with their design. These factors indicate that the ornaments were produced at Lake Onega region in several batches, most likely in different locations and by a number of makers,” said Docent Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipila from the University of Helsinki. Their research on these particular ancient relation ornaments has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.