February 18, 2019

Oldest human remains and oldest art from the North Sea

A fragment of a human skull from the collection of the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (RMO) and a decorated bison bone, both from the North Sea bed, are rare finds from the end of the last Ice Age. After studying both finds, Dutch archaeologists have concluded that these finds are over 13,000 years old and, as such, form the earliest known modern human from the Netherlands and the oldest art from the North Sea.

During the Ice Age, the North Sea was a vast plain and not a sea, so this discovery yields essential clues regarding the occupation of this enormous sunken landscape and the early cultural expressions of the last hunters of the Ice Age.

Spectacular Ice Age discoveries from submerged prehistoric North Sea landscape

The ‘oldest Dutchman’ is a fragment of a left parietal bone of a skull dating back over 13,000 years. It is the oldest find of a modern human from the North Sea and was found by fishermen near the Dutch coast, south of the dredged navigation channel known as the Eurogeul.

Physical anthropological research indicates the fragment belonged to an adult person, who may have suffered and recovered from a condition such as anaemia. The chemical composition of the bone confirms that hunting was an important contribution to the daily diet of this individual. The fragment was donated to the National Museum of Antiquities by the North Sea Fossils group in 2013.

Bison bone with zig-zag decoration

The decorated bison bone is slightly older: 13,500 years. It was fished from the North Sea, south of the Brown Bank. It was given as a long-term loan to the National Museum of Antiquities by a private collector.

The piece is a fragment of a metatarsal with a striking zig-zag decoration on five panels. It is the earliest piece of art to come from the North Sea. The artefact’s function remains unknown. Possibly it was a handle of a tool or a ritual object. There are three comparably decorated finds that were found at large distances from each other, in Wales, France and Poland.

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