A 13,500-year-old carved bison bone dredged from the North Sea is the oldest piece of Dutch art ever found.

The finding was documented in a study on human occupation of the ice-covered region that has become the North Sea, which was populated by late ice age hunters and foragers.

The study, published in Antiquity magazine, also documented a 13,000-year-old human skull fragment, which is the oldest modern human remains in the Netherlands.

The bison bone - carved with a zig zag pattern - was dredged from the sea floor in 2005 by a Dutch fishing vessel on the border of the Dutch part of the continental shelf. The item made its way into Jan Glimmerveen's private collection thanks to his "good contacts with the fishermen," NRC reported.

Glimmerveen gave permission to experts at Leiden University and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (RMO) to date the object using carbon isotopes. Researchers found it to be 13,500 years old, making it the oldest piece of art found ever found in the area now constituting the Netherlands.

Decorated bison bone north sea ice age
The carved bison bone was fished out of the North Sea in 2005 and dates to the last ice age Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

Similar objects of approximately the same age have been found in three other European locations, NRC writes, marking this as somewhat of a prehistoric fashion. A carved horse jaw bone was found in Wales, a carved deer antler in France, and a carved elk antler in Poland. The Polish antler also features a stick figure, interpreted by researchers as a woman with spread legs.

Luc Amkreutz, curator of prehistory at the RMO and lead author of the study, believes that such items may have been for ritual use.

The oldest Dutch human

In the same article, the researchers describe a 13,000-year-old skull fragment, also found in the North Sea. The fragment - of the left side of the skull - represents the oldest modern human (Homo sapiens) remains found in what is now the Netherlands.

The person it belonged to was an adult who died between the ages of 22 and 45. The fragment is undergoing DNA testing to determine whether the skull is of a man or a woman.

Pinprick-like pits found in the bone suggest the person either had anaemia in childhood or a vitamin deficiency, possibly manifesting as scurvy or rickets.

13,000-year-old human skull fragment found North Sea
The 13,000-year-old skull fragment is believed to represent the oldest modern human remains found in the Netherlands Rijksmuseum van Oudheden