How the Ancestors Danced

“Adult male from grave 76a in Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov drawn as if he were alive during a dance session: 140 elk teeth on the chest, waist, pelvis, and thighs rattle rhythmically and loudly.” (University of Helsinki)

I feel obligated for my North American readers to note that in Scandinavia “elk” means “moose” (Alces alces).[1]Like a Norwegian elkhound is a dog you take moose-hunting, just to locate the moose is all. I suppose the Finns use that word “elk”  in English because Finland was ruled by Sweden for a time.[2]From the Middle Ages until 1809. More about the naming issue here. Meanwhile we use a borrowed Algonquian term.

Many elk/moose tooth ornaments have been found Stone Age graves (8,000 years before present) in Karelia, according to a news release from the University of Helsinki.

Analysis of the teeth showed they had been used as ornaments, sewn to clothing, and their rattling against each other left disctinctive patterns of wear.

“Ornaments composed of elk teeth suspended from or sown on to clothing emit a loud rattling noise when moving,” says auditory archaeologist and Academy of Finland Research Fellow Riitta Rainio from the University of Helsinki. “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. It is as if the dancer is led in the dance by someone. . . . ”

Associate Professor of Archaeology Kristiina Mannermaa from the University of Helsinki is excited by the research findings.

“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. 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.”

In case you are wondering if I have Finnish or Karelian ancestry, I do not that I know of. And there is complicated story of groups of people here — Neanderthals, perhaps, then Stone Age hunters, Neolithic farmers/herders, and then Indo-European-speaking Bronze Age people. But go back far enough and one might have some of each. So I use “ancestors” in the broadest sense.

Notes

Notes
1 Like a Norwegian elkhound is a dog you take moose-hunting, just to locate the moose is all.
2 From the Middle Ages until 1809.

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