File - Michelle Williams` ePortfolio

Michelle Williams
ANTH 1020
Early Ornamentation of Humans
Some beads that were discovered in a key archaeological site in Lebanon have given us
new evidence of when humans first made their way eastward from Africa. The beads
themselves, made of small marine snails, helped archaeologists to date human fossils found in
the same sequence of archaeological
layers which have been found to date
back between 41,700-42,400 years.
The beads were perforated which
indicates that they were used on
clothing or displayed somewhere on
the body for decoration.
Other beads that have been found that are close to the same age are ones that were
found in a cave in Kenya. The cave is called Enkapune Ya Muto & inside beads made out of
ostrich egg shells were dated to be about 40,000 years old. These ostrich egg shell beads were
also perforated to be strung how the owner saw fit to display them.
As old as both of the beads talked about above are, they are not the oldest beads yet
found to date. The oldest beads that have been found were discovered in north eastern
Morocco, at Taforalt. The beads, made up of nassarius shells, have been dated to be around
82,000 years old. On each of the beads, archaeologists have detected wear patterns along the
perforated holes, indicating that the shell beads were
strung using some sort of cord or sinew (a dried tendon
of an animal) & used as an ornament.
And it has been not only Taforalt that these
particular shell beads have been found. They have been
found scattered all over Morocco, but are currently
waiting to be dated. The nassarius shell beads have also
been found in other Middle Paleolithic sites such as what
is now Algeria & farther east, as well as on the opposite side of the continent in Blombos Cave
on the coast of South Africa. Blombos Cave is similar to Taforalt with findings of bone tools &
ochre (a type of soft red rock rich in iron) buried within the sediments inside & also in regards
to the age of the artifacts found. It was likely some of these bone tools that were used by our
early ancestors to make the keyhole perforations in the shell beads & the ochre was used to
some degree to stain them with red hues. The artifacts in Blombos cave have been dated
between 70,000-100,000 years old.
Due to these discoveries of early pieces of ornamentation, some scientists believe that
by 100,000 years ago, early humans began to show signs of more modern cognitive abilities.
Early humans began to develop more abstract, symbolic thinking. Some speculate that jewelry
started out as a way to secure clothing together & eventually evolved to become ornaments.
And with the adaption of ornament use, it is also speculated that this is a sign of self-awareness
and was a way to establish an identity, not just as an individual, but possibly also to establish
which group or clan they belonged to.
It is also speculated that these early forms of jewelry were not just to establish an
identity, but also as a way to beautify the self to attract a mate. In Darwin’s book, The Descent
of Man, he talks about how inter-male competition was not the only way to win a female.
There were contests much more peaceful in nature that males used to charm their female
counterparts. Females could very well have chosen their mates based on the males physique,
their weapons, & how they ornamented themselves.
As to what has been found, early humans began to create beads & pendants from other
materials as well besides just shells, including bones, teeth, wood, and stone. The human
desire to decorate one’s self, personally or to attach the ornaments to clothing is many
thousands of years old. The practice of it also strongly indicates the intelligence of Homo
sapiens in general. Attaching an abstract meaning to any physical object by any living animal
during the history of the Earth has been extremely rare. Even by some of our closest cousins of
the Middle Paleolithic time, the Neanderthals did not even have such creative cognitive
abilities. Symbolic art has been found in certain sites where Neantherthals had occupied the
space, however scientists & researchers don’t believe that they were made by them, but by
modern humans.
An archeologist by the name of Richard Klein has argued that there was a behavioral
revolution in modern humans about 50,000 years ago in Africa. By this time frame, Homo
sapiens were the only hominids left and so believe that this stemming of symbolic thinking was
more from a mutation in their genes than from interactions with other hominids. As evidence,
Klein draws upon the cave in Kenya, talked about briefly in the beginning of this paper,
Enkapune Ya Muto. From there, Stanley H. Ambrose, a researcher from the University of Illinois,
took a team to the cave & found the beads. He puts forward that the hunter-gatherers in
Botswana, the !Kung San, exchange necklaces made with the same beads, to harbor good
relationships with other groups when troublesome times approach. He appears to maintain
that this practice has been passed down through the ages until the present day.
What ever its form, ornamentation & jewelry of all kinds represent a very real human
characteristic in decorating oneself. The type & process of jewelry making is also a great way to
scale how our intelligence as a species has grown over the millennia’s. It marks our culture, our
tastes, our resourcefulness & our critical thinking abilities. So the next time you look at a piece
of jewelry, think about how far we’ve come, from crude shell necklaces to beautiful polished
gemstone ones.
Works Cited
“Blombos Cave.” University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. N.d. Web. 19 Nov.
“Dating of Beads Sets New Timeline for Early Humans.” 13 Sep. 2013.
Web. 19 Nov. 2013.
“Jewellery.” Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013
“Enkapune Ya Muto.” Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013
“The History of Jewellery: Origins of Jewellery Design.” n.d.
Web. 19 Nov. 2013
“Prehistoric Jewelry Dates back 82,000 Years.” Science 2.0. ION Publications LLC, 20 Jun.
2007. Web. 19 Nov. 2013
“Blombos Cave.” Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2013
Dixson, Alan. F. Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems. New York.
Oxford University Press. 2009. eBook. 1st ed.
Johanson, Donald C. Lucy’s Legacy. New York. Harmony Books. 2009. Book. 1st ed.
Blombos Cave Marine Shell Beads. Wikipedia. Web. 19 Nov 2013
Shell bead found in Blombos Cave. University of the Witwatersprand, Johannesburg.
Web. 19 Nov 2013