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Shells are believed to be 100,000-year-old jewelry

By JCK Staff
Posted on June 23, 2006
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Archeologists have found evidence that human self-adornment may have been practiced more than 100,000 years ago, The New York Times reports.

An international team of archaeologists, in an article in Friday's issue of the journal, Science, reported their analysis of small shells with distinctive perforations that appeared to have been strung together as ornamental beads, the Times reports. Chemical study showed that the two shells from the Skhul rock shelter in Israel were more than 100,000 years old, and the single shell from Oued Djebbana, in Algeria, was about 90,000 years old.

Researchers reportedly emphasized that the shells were from the same genus of marine snail and were worked in the same manner as those from the Blombos cave, near Cape Town, South Africa, which were reported two years ago as the earliest jewelry, dated at 75,000 years ago.

The Blombos find was hotly contested because of a lack of corroborating evidence from other sites, the Times reports.

The scientists also note that the Israeli and Algerian sites are so far from the seashore and that the shells were most likely brought there intentionally for beadworking, the Times reports. A study of modern shells of similar snails, they noted, determined that the chances that the holes occurred naturally are extremely small.

In the journal report, 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 behavioral change about 50,000 years ago that might have prompted human migrations from Africa into Europe, leading to a burst of creativity that began about 40,000 years ago.

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