Researchers from the UK, France and Israel report in the journal Science that they re-examined beads, originally excavated from a site in Israel and one in Algeria in the early half of the 20th Century, using elemental and chemical analysis. Results show the beads date from between 100,000 to 135,000 years ago – which is much earlier than a recent significant find of beads excavated in South Africa that date from 75,000 years ago.
Personal ornaments, along with art, are generally considered as archaeological proof of an aptitude for symbolic thinking and the findings have major implications for the debates about the origins of behaviourally modern humans.
Dr Marian Vanhaeren, of the AHRC Centre for the Evolutionary Analysis of Cultural Behaviour, UCL Institute of Archaeology, and lead author of the study, says:
"Symbolically mediated behaviour has emerged as one of the few unchallenged and universally accepted markers of modernity. A key characteristic of all symbols is that their meaning is assigned by arbitrary, socially constructed conventions and it permits the storage and display of information.
"The main challenge for paleoanthropology is establishing when in human evolution this ability developed. Archaeological evidence suggests that Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) from Africa were also behaviourally modern before 40,000 but until now evidence has remained scant.
"Given that the same shell species were unearthed at distinct geographical sites suggests that a symbolic tradition extended across the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean. It supports the hypothesis that a widespread tradition of beadwork existed in North Africa and the countries of Western Asia well before the arrival of AMH in Europe."
Human remains excavated from Ethiopia demonstrate that Homo sapiens in Africa were anatomically modern 160,000 years ago, but debate continues over when and where humans first became behaviourally modern.
In 2004 engraved ochre and Nassarius kraussianus seashell beads bearing human-made perforations and traces of use were discovered at the Blombos Cave, South Africa and were dated to 75,000 years ago. The finding suggests that humans became behaviourally modern much earlier than previously thought but it has been hotly contested because of a lack of corroborating evidence from other sites.
The seashell beads that have been re-examined were originally unearthed at a Middle Palaeolithic site at Es-Skhul, Mount Carmel, Israel and from the type-site of the Aterian industry, of Oued Djebbana, Bir-el-Ater, Algeria. The shells from Skhul are currently held in the Department of Palaeontology, Natural History Museum (NHM), London, and the specimen from Oued Djebbana in the Department of Prehistory, Musée de l'Homme, Paris.
Remoteness from seashore – up to 200 km in the case of Oued Djebban – and detailed comparison to natural shell assemblages indicates in both cases there was deliberate selection and transportation by humans of Nassarius gibbosulus seashells for symbolic use.
Dr Vanhaeren added: "Personal ornaments have many different – and often multiple – functions. They may be used to beautify the body, function as 'love letters' in courtship, or as amulets that express individual or group identity. The function of the oldest beads in Africa and Eurasia were probably different because in the first case we have only one bead type and in the second a rich variety of types.
"We think that the African evidence may point to the beads being used in gift-giving systems which function to strengthen social and economic relationships. The European evidence suggests the beads were used as markers of ethnic, social and personal identity."
Judith H Moore | EurekAlert!
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy