Culture / Art Republik

Archaeologists Discover the Oldest Jewellery On Record

The beads were discovered in Morocco sometime between 2014 and 2018 and are almost 150,000 years old.

Nov 25, 2021 | By luxuo
oldest jewellery
Image: University of Arizona

Archaeologists have unearthed the oldest piece of jewellery on record. They discovered 33 shell beads that date back 150,000 years ago. This find was outlined in a research article published by Science Advances.

The artefacts were discovered near Morocco‘s Atlantic coast in the Bizmoune Cave between 2014 and 2018. The beads have undergone rigorous tests to determine their age, and many of them are said to be between 142,000 and 150,000 years old.

oldest jewellery on record
Image: University of Arizona

The beads are roughly half an inch long, and each of them seems to be made from two different sea snail species. According to the excavation team, the beads had holes in their centres, as well as markings from wear and tear, indicate they were hung on strings or from clothing.

Ancient beads from the North African region, such as these, are associated with the Aterian culture of the Middle Stone Age. Settlers of this time period are widely considered to be the first to have worn what we now consider jewellery.

Archaeologist Steven L. Kuhn and his team say the shell beads are the earliest known evidence of a widespread form of non-verbal human communication, using jewellery to relay things about ourselves without conversation.

aterian stone age tools
Middle Stone Age Aterian tools. Image: Science Direct

“They were probably part of the way people expressed their identity with their clothing,” Kuhn said in a statement. “They’re the tip of the iceberg for that kind of human trait.”

The beads are also notable for their lasting form. Rather than painting their bodies or faces with ochre or charcoal, as many people did, the beads’ makers made something more permanent, Kuhn said, suggesting the message they intended to convey was a lasting and important one.

Kuhn also works as a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and believes that the discovery showed that people used accessories to convey parts of their personality even from thousands of years ago. Kuhn says the beads are a fossilised form of basic communication.

If history, art, and fashion interests you, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris has launched the “Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity” exhibition. It explores the impact that Islamic art had on the jeweller in its early days. The exhibition is available to the public until 20 February 2022.

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