Many of the bead history books and articles cite the oldest beads as about 40,000 years old. But in the past few years, that record has been topped. First in 2004, when 75,000-year-old beads were discovered in a South African cave .
Then last year, archaeologists sifting through decades old museum collections in London and in Paris, found some tiny shell beads that they believe are about 100,000 years old! Are they really beads or was there some natural phenomenon that created those holes? These beads were originally discovered in Morocco, North Africa. (Picture by Marian Vanhaeren & Francesco d'Errico)

And why the scientific hoopla over what might be just ancient jewelry? If these were really beads, then they are one of the earliest evidence of modern behaviour.

The wearing of jewelry was not merely for adornment but also to show status or group identity - distinguishing actions that were nothing to do with survival. These most recently discovered shell beads were originally found far from the sea (Mount Carmel in Israel and Oued Djebbana, Algeria), suggesting that they were bartered in trade and were valued items which also showed anticipation, planning and the beginnings of networking. Such beadmaking and stringing (probably onto a piece of leather) was a humble but significant start to creative art and design.

If early hunters and gatherers could find time to bead in some damp cave, so can we and in much more comfortable surroundings!

National Geographic (June 22, 2006)
Research article on 82,000 year old beads

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