Sunday, June 25, 2006

Jewelry -- 100,000 Years Old!

Well, they were only shell necklaces but if they were made 100,000 years ago it means, according to John Noble Wilford in the New York Times, that human self-adornment, considered a manifestation of symbolic thinking, was practiced at least 25,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Before this find from the Skhul rock shelter in Israel and a single shell from Algeria (about 90,000 years old), the earliest jewelry was dated at 75,000 years ago and was found at the Blombos cave, near Cape Town, South Africa.

The international team of archaeologists, whose article recently appeared in the journal Science, point out that the Israeli and Algerian sites are so distant from the seashore that the shells were most likely brought there intentionally for beadworking. The research team, led by Marian Vanhaeren of University College London and Francesco d'Errico of the National Center for Scientific Research in Talence France concluded, "These beads support the hypothesis that a long-lasting and widespread beadworking tradition existed in Africa and the Levant well before the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Europe."

The hypothesis challenges the traditional view that modern Homo sapiens underwent a significant behavior change about 50,000 years ago, possibly the result of some genetic modification that afforded a greater capability for symbolic thinking and creativity in arts and crafts.

Jewelry was probably one of the earliest ways people conveyed aspects of their social and cutural identities, Dr. Vanhaeren said. Typically, modern humans do not always agree, as evidenced by the statment from Richard G. Klein, a Stanford archaeologist, who was quoted as saying the new shell evidence "seems weak to me" and the interpretation remained "debatable."

Fossils excavated in Ethiopia show that Homo sapiens were anatomically modern by 160,000 years ago. No consensus has been reached on just how early these prehistoric people began behaving like humans.

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