Beads have been a part of human life for 75,000 years
From the Bead Scoop Vol. I Issue 2, Sept 2007
Joyce Diamanti writes in A Bead Timeline Volume I: Prehistory to 1200CE
“Homo habilis crafted the first crude tools around 2.5 million years ago. [But] they showed few outward signs of cognitive development. Beads first appear toward the end of the Old Stone Age, or Paleolithic period, when Homo sapiens began to exhibit culturally modern behavior, manifesting artistic and technological creativity and the capacity to communicate through abstract symbols, which is the basis of all art and science, as well as language, both spoken and written.
Some researchers believe this change was a gradual evolutionary process that began in Africa soon after the advent of anatomically modern humans around 130,000 years ago. As evidence they cite scattered finds of improved tools and early artistic expression, including beads that date to nearly [75,000]* years ago. Others hold these finds to be too far and few between to be significant, and argue that while the capacity for abstract thinking may have been present, it remained latent. They maintain that people began to act in a culturally modern way rather abruptly only 50,000 to 40,000 years ago, as Homo sapiens moved out of Africa and spread to far-flung regions of the world, displacing Neanderthals in Europe and other archaic hominids in East and Southeast Asia.
Beginning around 45,000 years ago, a creative explosion ensued in every sphere of human activity. The Late Paleolithic has been called the “big bang” of human culture … Among the earliest evidence of abstract thinking, beads also express other attributes that distinguish us a human – artistic creativity, technological inventiveness, and self-awareness.
At the beginning of the Late Paleolithic beads first appeared in quantity almost simultaneously in Asia, Africa, and Europe. In a world of accelerating cultural change, beads could convey information and would contribute to that change, transmitting technological knowledge, mediating social relations, playing a role in religious, political, and economic life. Almost as soon as beads appear we find evidence of long-distance trade in materials used to make them. In time, beads and bead materials would become not only important trade commodities but vehicles of cultural diffusion.”
*Diamanti’s essay states the oldest bead to be 60,000 years old, but shell beads found in the Blombos cave excavation in South Africa have been dated to 75,000 years.