Friday, July 13, 2007

Oldest Jewelry Found in Morocco Cave

Deliberate holes and a coating of red coloring are evident on four tiny snail shells recently found in a cave in Morocco. At 82,000 years old, the shells are the oldest known examples of human jewelry, researchers say, surpassing previous confirmed reports of ancient beads by about 10,000 years.
Photograph courtesy Ian Cartwright, Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University

Oldest Jewelry Found in Morocco Cave
Kate Ravilious
for National Geographic News

June 7, 2007

Tiny shells coated in red clay are the oldest known human ornamentation, an international team of archaeologists recently announced.

So far, 13 shells dated to 82,000 years ago have been found in the Grotte des Pigeons at Taforalt in eastern Morocco.

Each shell has a hole pierced through it and a covering of red ochre, an ancient pigment made from clay.

"The fact that they are colored and have deliberate perforations indicates that they were used as ornamentation," said Nick Barton from the University of Oxford in England, one of the archaeologists on the team.

Some of the shell "beads" show signs of wear inside the perforation, indicating that they were strung together as necklaces or bracelets.

"They were definitely meant to be seen," Barton said.

Sophisticated Cultures

The shells come from a genus of marine snail called Nassarius, which is not found along the Moroccan shoreline today.

The nearest place where the snails live is an island off Tunisia that lies more than 800 miles (1,280 kilometers) away (Africa map).

"It is possible that these beads were brought here from Tunisia and were very special objects," Barton said.

In a paper published in the June issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the archaeologists suggest that the beads mark a shift in human development and the beginnings of modern cultural behavior.

"We think that they were capable of thinking symbolically and able to use one thing to represent another," Barton said.

Possibly the beads were used to establish group identity and indicate where certain people belonged.

Similar cultural signs, such as specialized tools and personal decoration, didn't arrive in Europe until around 40,000 years ago.

Conclusive Dating

The Moroccan find is not the first example of ancient Nassarius shells that might have been beads.

Last June the same team reported that snail shells found at sites in Israel and Algeria were likely to be the world's oldest bead jewelry.

Initial analysis of the shells from Israel indicated them to be between 100,000 and 135,000 years old, while the Algerian shells were determined to be more than 35,000 years old.

For their latest study the team established the Moroccan shells' ages using four different dating techniques. This means the beads qualify as the world's oldest, they say, because the shells are the only ones to be dated so conclusively.

Abdeljalil Bouzouggar, from the Moroccan Institute of Archaeology, and colleagues found the shells in the Grotte des Pigeons alongside burnt stone remains in well-layered soil.

The team has also uncovered similar shells at other sites in Morocco and are currently awaiting dating results.

"Shells from other sites may turn out to be even older," Barton said, "and we may well be looking at ornamentation beyond a hundred thousand years ago."


Anonymous said...

this is something not soo much impressive, to me the most impressive discover was find Generic Viagra in a cave near to the great pyramid in Egypt, beside of course the strange vases with a chemical sustance like our actual energy batteries.

Anonymous said...

Great to read your article.
As a jeweller, living in Australia, a frequent visitor to Morocco.
I am interested in the interface of ordinary Moroccan jewellers and their designs and sales to tourists. I think there is scope for young jewellers to improve the market and have tried to help a couple of jewellers with simple strong design ideas, open to interpretation, and will be back in Morocco soon and will try to help further.
I have made a range of Moroccan inspired pieces, not for sale in Morocco as they would be far too expensive, though I have tried and was asked, “what is the kilo price”

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