Tag Archives: oldest beads

200,000 year old shell beads from Libya.

Three fragments of ostrich eggshell beads from the Late Acheulian of El Greifa E, Libya), similar to beads found at two Upper Palaeolithic sites in India. The site of discovery is Wadi el Adjal. There’s a modern example of this kind of bead to show how they are still worn.

Finally I found a solid reference and images of these beads. I’d heard of them in another paper, but I was starting to think someone had made them up. If the dating is accurate, they beat all the other contenders for the worlds oldest beads hands down. Except of course, for two items, drilled with stone tools, from the Repolust Cave, Austria (Bednarik 1992a: 34). They are thought to be almost 300,000 years old, although they could be beads or pendants. This would be a Heidelbergensis date for the Austrian pendants.

 It seems that a fondness for personal adornment is something common to all humans, modern and archaic.

The worlds oldest beads from Skhul, Israel.

Middle Paleolithic Shell Beads in Israel and Algeria

Marian Vanhaeren,1* Francesco d’Errico,2* Chris Stringer,3 Sarah L. James,4 Jonathan A. Todd,3 Henk K. Mienis5

Perforated marine gastropod shells at the western Asian site of Skhul and the North African site of Oued Djebbana indicate the early use of beads by modern humans in these regions. The remoteness of these sites from the seashore and a comparison of the shells to natural shell assemblages indicate deliberate selection and transport by humans for symbolic use. Elemental and chemical analyses of sediment matrix adhered to one Nassarius gibbosulus from Skhul indicate that the shell bead comes from a layer containing 10 human fossils and dating to 100,000 to 135,000 years ago, about 25,000 years earlier than previous evidence for personal decoration by modern humans in South Africa.

As I read last year the oldest beads are supposed to some from Taforalt in Morocco, at 82,000 years old. This would seem to beat that age by at least 18,000 years, and more like 35,000 years.

 I tracked down an article on the Skhul beads here in New Scientist.

Ancient beads imply culture older than we thought
19:00 22 June 2006
NewScientist.com news service
Anna Gosline

Each shell found at Skhul had a hole on the back, most likely made by humans, though such holes do occur naturally. Both shells are pictured in four views. Scale bar is 1 centimetre

The shells of Nassarius gibbosulus are still common today (Image: Marian Vanhaeren/Francesco d’Errico)Archaeologists have discovered that 100,000-year-old shells found in Israel and Algeria were decorative beads. This suggests that modern human forms of behaviour, such as language, developed earlier than previously thought.

“Personal ornaments are a powerful tool of communication,” says Francesco D’Errico at the Institute of the Prehistory and Geology of the Quaternary in Talence, France, one of the team that studied the beads. “They can indicate social or marital status, for example. But you need to have a complex system of language behind that. To me [these beads] are very powerful archaeological evidence that these people were able to speak like us.”

In 2004 archaeologists unearthed 41 pea-sized shell beads in Blombos Caves, South Africa, dated at 75,000 years old. The shells were all punctured in the same place and showed signs of wear, as if they had been strung together. They were the oldest record of personal ornamentation ever found, suggesting that African humans from this time could think symbolically and were more culturally advanced than previously believed.

That find prompted Marian Vanhaeren at University College London and her colleagues to take a further look at shells mentioned in site excavation logs from Skhul in Israel and Oued Djebbana in Algeria. The team found three shells of the ocean gastropod Nassarius gibbosulus in museums in London and Paris. Two were from Skhul, dating from at least 100,000 years ago, and one was from Oued Djebbana and between 35,000 and 90,000 years old. The snail is of the same genus as those found in the Blombos Caves, and all the finds were too tiny to be collected as food. Each shell had a hole on the back, most likely punctured by humans, though such holes do occur naturally.

Shell traders
For the past 100,000 years Skhul and Oued Djebbana have been 20 and 190 kilometres respectively from the sea, where the snails live. “These beads needed to have been collected or traded, which implies that they had cultural value,” says Bernard Wood at George Washington University in Washington DC, US. “You wouldn’t trudge 200 kilometres if you could find something a lot more local.”

The finding is more evidence that modern human behaviour developed gradually in Africa following the appearance of anatomically modern humans around 200,000 years ago. The conventional archaeological wisdom, however, states that culturally modern humans appeared suddenly in Africa or Eurasia just 40,000 years ago, in what is known as the “human revolution”. This conclusion was based on the rich archaeological sites in Europe dated from that time, filled with a plethora of engravings, sculpture, beads and artworks.

“That sort of prejudice is being continually eroded with these kinds of discoveries,” says Wood. “But it still raises the question, in order to make holes in beads and to have the need for beads, does that mean you have language? Bead-making is being used as a proxy for modern human behaviour. It would be nice if there were more proxies and it would be nice to find them at these sites.”

But Sally McBrearty at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, US, says that one artefact is enough. “In European sites all of these symbolic artefacts appear together in a package. But even one of these things shows the capacity for symbolic communication. You find them all together in Europe because it was many tens of thousands of years after they were invented in Africa.”

Journal reference: Science (vol 312 p 1785

Jebel Irhoud,

Tiny shells may be world’s oldest beads.

Treasure hunt turns up ornaments that may be 100,000 years old

Shell beads
These are four views from different angles of a perforated Nassarius gibbosulus shell found at an archaeological site in Oued Djebbana, Algeria. The shell may be as much as 100,000 years old. The scale bar represents 1 centimeter, or half an inch.

82,000 year old beads from Morocco (above).

.So, we are all meant to be descended only from one small group of Africans that left via the Gate of Tears 60,000 years ago are we?

Studies on fossil specimens from a 160,000-year-old child reveal more clues to the evolution of modern humans. Tests on remains from a child show it was growing as slowly as an eight-year-old child would today. This is the earliest evidence of a prolonged childhood in our modern human ancestors, Homo sapiens .‘This paper certainly provides evidence of a pattern of growth like our own, and this is perhaps not surprising, as there is a very modern-looking child’s skull from Herto in Ethiopia,’ says Chris Stringer, human origins expert at the Natural History Museum.

Frontal view of cast of adult male Homo sapiens from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco.

Frontal view of cast of adult male Homo sapiens from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco.

Three modern human skulls from Herto in Ethiopia were dated and described in 2003 and at 160,000 years they are some of the oldest examples of modern humans, Homo sapiens .

‘What is also interesting is that in this paper is the first direct date on the material from Irhoud (Morocco), placing it at about the same age as the Herto finds – about 160,000 years old. This allows us to directly compare these samples from people living across North Africa, Morocco and Ethiopia.’

Testing bones and teeth

The team of scientists carried out various tests on the fossilised bones and teeth. They looked for molar teeth in the jaw that may not have erupted, an important clue to the development of a child. And a powerful X-ray technique on a fossilised tooth revealed microscopic growth lines hidden inside. This shows the tooth was immature and had grown slowly, the same as an eight-year-old child’s would today.

Long childhoods

Humans have the longest childhood of all primates, and this feature in nature is associated with complex social structures, as the brain has longer to develop during childhood.

More ancient human ancestors grew up much faster. For example Australopithecines , living about 3 million years ago, may have reached adulthood by the age of 12.

Jebel Irhoud site

The fossil remains of this child, who was about eight years old, were discovered in the Jebel Irhoud site in Morocco in 1968. ‘This is a very important site and has often been neglected in the discussions of modern human origins,’ says Chris. ‘In my own case, studies of an adult skull from this site over 30 years ago was one of the factors that led me to the view that our species had evolved in Africa.’

‘While I think that the Irhoud material is probably less ‘modern’ overall than do the authors of this paper, nevertheless these fossils could certainly represent populations ancestral to modern humans, and they show that North Africa may well have played a significant part in our origins,’ concludes Chris.
A team from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France carried out the research.

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .