About Stone Age Jewelry

by Tanya Wyr

The Stone Age was a broad period of time from about 2.7 million years ago to about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. At the dawn of the Stone Age, man first made tools. He followed these inventions with art, like cave paintings, and jewelry. Most Stone Age jewelry is simple in design, but was clearly meant as ornaments for people.

Oldest Pieces Found

Scientists believe that the oldest Stone Age jewelry pieces found date back 100,000 years. They were found in a cave in Blombos, South Africa. These pieces are beads made of mollusk shells called nassarius kraussianus. After finding these beads, historians had proof that Stone Age people made the fine bone tools needed to create delicate beads.

Older and Older Jewelry

Previous to the discovery at Blombos, the earliest jewelry known was made 45,000 years ago. The Blombos beads were at first thought to be more recent, but after radioactivity tests scientists discovered they were older. There is a debate about how old the beads are, and scientists keep estimating their date of production to be earlier and earlier.

Types and Materials

Common pieces of Stone Age jewelry are beads of shell, bone, stones or animal teeth. There are a few examples of drilled metal nuggets from this period, too. Whatever the materials, the beads were normally put together in the same way. They were strung together most likely with strips of hide or twine. Some Stone Age beads were also sewn to animal hide clothing as decoration.

Jewelry as a Sign of Human Development

Anthropologists argue that the creation of jewelry shows abstract thinking and awareness of self. Both of these are essential human traits. Jewelry may have been a sign of status within various groups as well, but we must await further studies to find this out for certain.

Significance

The discovery of jewelry and other artwork has challenged scientists to push back the date on which they claim humans started to think in a modern way by creating art and language. The symbolic thinking required to make and wear jewelry is accepted by scientists as a benchmark of human behavior that defines modern thought.

Resources

About the Author

Tanya Wyr has 12 years experience as a professional writer and editor both in print and online. She has written for major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Macy’s and Mervyns. Wyr has also edited college-level textbooks. Wyr earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Minnesota in 1991.

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