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Early Humans Crafted Jewelry from Giant Sloth Bones


Early humans living in South America created jewelry from giant sloth bones, providing evidence of their presence during or before the end of the last glacial period. These bones, dating back 16,000 to 27,000 years, were found in cave shelters inhabited by humans.

The Extinction of Giant Sloths

Giant sloths, larger than polar bears and protected by bony plates, once roamed South America during the last glacial period. However, climate change and hunting by humans led to their extinction around 10,000 years ago. Some of their remains, including fossilized bony dermal plates called osteoderms, are preserved in cave shelters.

Unusual Bones

Three fossilized giant sloth bones have intrigued scientists for their unique shape and smooth texture. These bones had holes drilled near the edges, indicating potential use as jewelry or personal ornaments.

Confirmation of Human Modification

Archaeologists speculated that the bones were modified by humans, and further analysis using high-resolution microscopes and x-rays confirmed this. The bones showed scratches, gouges, and shaping that couldn’t be explained by natural erosion or animal activity.

Arrival of Humans in the Americas

The fact that the bones were shaped before fossilization suggests that humans arrived in the Americas before the end of the last glacial period. This discovery provides a glimpse into how early humans engaged with these now-extinct species.

Possibility of Personal Adornment

The smoothness of the bones indicates repeated friction, possibly from daily wear as personal adornment. This could be one of the earliest examples of personal artifacts in the Americas, but further research is needed to understand their significance.


The discovery of jewelry made from giant sloth bones highlights the resourcefulness and creativity of early humans in South America. It also offers valuable insights into their interaction with extinct species and their cultural practices.

Article amended on 14 July 2023: We clarified when the giant sloths lived

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