Friendship pendants already existed in the Stone Age – knowledge

They come in all sorts of forms. Some are made of silver or gold, others are made of wood. Often something like “Best Friends” is engraved. Some pendants look like divided hearts, others like jigsaw pieces that fit together, still others form yin and yang together. And they’re not a modern trend: People in north-eastern Europe probably made friendship pendants as early as the Stone Age, around 6,000 years ago. That Finnish scientists report in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. According to this, people gave away broken stone rings at that time to assure themselves of their togetherness.

Until now, these rings had been taken for ordinary pieces of jewellery. In north-eastern Europe they were particularly widespread in the so-called combed pottery culture in the fourth millennium BC. At that time people were already doing some farming, but still mainly lived as hunters, fishermen and gatherers. They made ceramics, which they decorated with broken lines; they probably used comb-like tools for this, hence the name. And they left behind those jewelry rings of stone.

During excavations in what is now Finland alone, 35 intact rings and more than 200 fragments of shale and tuffite rock have been found in recent years, many of them with drilled holes. Initially, no one thought of friendship pendants. The fact that many rings were broken seemed to be solely due to time. The pieces ended up lying in the ground for several millennia; most of what archaeologists unearth is preserved only in fragments. The holes in the ring parts were again explained by attempts to repair them: The rings in question had accidentally broken as early as the Stone Age, so people pierced them and tried to tie the parts back together.

The materials were traded over longer distances

But now scientists from the Universities of Helsinki and Turku have taken a closer look at 197 of these rings and fragments. They found clear traces of tools on some broken edges. Someone had deliberately broken the rings. In turn, they found traces of rubbing in the holes – an indication that the pendants were worn on ropes around the neck.

The rest was like a jigsaw puzzle. The archaeologists sorted the fragments according to size, color and shape, and they also examined the chemical composition of the jewelry. The material for many of the rings came from the region around Lake Onega in northwestern modern-day Russia. The rings, or at least the stones, were obviously traded over longer distances.

And the researchers did find individual pieces that fit together. One couple suited each other particularly well; here archaeologists had found one part of the ring in Nikkarinmäki east of Helsinki and the other in Hietaniemenkangas, more than 100 kilometers to the north-east as the crow flies. The two parts, once separated, were processed differently. The researchers conclude that they may have been owned by different people. “Perhaps they wore the jewelry as a symbol of their connection,” says archaeologist Marja Ahola of the University of Helsinki, the study’s first author.

The friendship rings from the Stone Age were of different sizes. Some were three centimeters in diameter, others were five times that size. Some were light brown to gray, others green; some had a square cross-section, others an oval. And most were just polished smooth.

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