8,000-year-old elk teeth reveal psychedelic Stone Age dance tendencies

Researchers danced in Stone Age-style elk tooth ornaments for hours on end then compared the markings to those found in ancient burial grounds.

A YouTube screenshot of Stone Age-style elk tooth ornaments believed to have been worn for dancing (photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
A YouTube screenshot of Stone Age-style elk tooth ornaments believed to have been worn for dancing
(photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
Ornaments made of elk teeth dating back some 8,000 years have revealed a startling pattern of psychedelic-like dancing that took place in the Stone Age, according to a new study co-authored by researchers from the University of Helsinki and the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, revealed that ancient ornaments attached to clothing would make rattling noise when moving, egging on a dance based on the sound.
This study used ornaments found in the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov burial site, which contains 177 graves discovered so far, over half of which contain elk tooth ornaments. Some of those contain over 300 individual teeth.
"Wearing such rattlers while dancing makes it easier to immerse yourself in the soundscape, eventually letting the sound and rhythm take control of your movements," said auditory archaeologist Riitta Rainio from the University of Helsinki, according to the university's website. "It is as if the dancer is led in the dance by someone."
"Elk tooth rattlers are fascinating, since they transport modern people to a soundscape that is thousands of years old and to its emotional rhythms that guide the body," said University of Helsinki Associate Professor of Archaeology Kristiina Mannermaa. "You can close your eyes, listen to the sound of the rattlers and drift on the soundwaves to a lakeside campfire in the world of Stone Age hunter-gatherers."
Rainio tested the theory by dancing in the ornaments for six hours straight, imitating the way in which those who wore them during the Stone Age would dance.
The teeth clanged against one another, creating microscopic marks that were later compared to those found by Evgeny Girya of the Russian Academy of Sciences - who specializes in micro-marks in archaeology - on elk teeth found in ancient graves in the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov burial site.
Girya found that the markings in the teeth that were worn while dancing and those from the Stone Age were strikingly similar, with the Stone Age markings being deeper and more extensive, showing that the marks are "the result of similar activity," according to the University of Helsinki.
An April study conducted by Israeli researchers found that prehistoric humans sought psychedelic experiences in deep and narrow caves, as penetrating several hundred meters deep into the caverns represented a conscious choice that allowed prehistoric humans to connect with their cosmos, with the low concentration of oxygen found in those environments acting as a drug.
This state of being is called hypoxia, and it officially occurs when the oxygen concentration is below 18%.
Its symptoms, the researcher pointed out, include dizziness and headaches but also euphoria and an increase in the release of dopamine - not unlike the effect researchers believe that dancing with elk tooth ornaments seems to have.
This newest study was part of a larger project titled "The Animals Make Identities: The Social Bioarchaeology of Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic Cemeteries in North-East Europe." It looks into the social ties between humans and animals specifically in hunter-gatherer burial sites in northeast Europe - such as the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov burial site.
Rossella Tercatin contributed to this report.