Prehistoric Humans In Turkey Used Human Teeth As Jewelry

Archaeologists have turned up a remarkable find at an 8,500-year-old site in Turkey — human molars that were used as jewelry.
John Loeffler
University of Copenhagen

At the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey, archaeologists have discovered human molars that had been used by the prehistoric people of the area as jewelry in the form of beads or pendants.

Neolithic humans in Anatolia used human teeth as jewelry, archaeologists find

Archaeologists with the University of Copenhagen have published a study in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports this month that reveals how Neolithic people in modern-day Turkey used human teeth as a form of beaded jewelry and as pendants. 


During the excavation of the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük between 2013 and 2015, researchers discovered three 8,500-year-old teeth that had holes intentionally drilled through them in the manner of beads. Further macroscopic, microscopic, and radiological analysis of the teeth confirmed that at least two of the teeth were indeed used in beaded jewelry or as pendants.

“Not only had the two teeth been drilled with a conically shaped microdrill similar to those used for creating the vast amounts of beads from animal bone and stone that we have found at the site, but they also showed signs of wear corresponding to extensive use as ornaments in a necklace or bracelet,” said Scott Haddow, an archaeologist with the University of Copenhagen and first author on the study.

Notably, the teeth appear to have been taken from two adult skulls post-mortem, rather than teeth that had fallen out due to disease.

“The evidence suggests that the two teeth pendants were probably extracted from two mature individuals post-mortem," Haddow said. "The wear on the teeth’s chewing surfaces indicates that the individuals would have been between 30-50 years old. And since neither tooth seems to have been diseased-which would likely have caused the tooth to fall out during life-, the most likely scenario is that both teeth were taken from skulls at the site."

Teeth used as jewelry has been found at other Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic  sites elsewhere in Europe, but this is the first time that such a discovery of such teeth was made this far to the east of Europe.

“Given the amount of fragmentary skeletal material often circulating within Neolithic sites," Haddow said, "not least at Çatalhöyük where secondary burial practices associated with the display of human skulls were frequent, what is most interesting is the fact that human teeth and bone were not selected and modified more often. Thus, because of the rarity of the find, we find it very unlikely that these modified human teeth were used solely for aesthetic purposes but rather carried profound symbolic meaning for the people who wore them.”


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