Photograph courtesy of Ian Cartwright, Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University
Researchers say that these four beads are 82,000 years old. They were found in the Grotte des Pigeons at Taforalt in eastern Morocco. Another important site at Skhul, Israel has similar beads thought to be 100,000 or more years old. Intentionally collected, transported, sorted for size, perforated, and decorated, these beads were as inspired in their making as the modern example below.
For more information, visit http://anthropology.net/2007/06/04/82000-year-old-jewellery-found/
The other day I overheard my esteemed colleague and friend Ron Holliday say in a casual conversation: "The wearing of jewelry is such a basic impulse, going back to the days when humans first noticed a pretty shell on the beach. They picked it up and put a string on it to wear around their neck--and we're still more or less doing the same thing today."
That got me to thinking about the current scholarship, on what actually is thought to be the first known ornament used to adorn the human body. As it turns out, Ron was right. Shells, specifically Nassarius kraussianus, as well as a few others, have been identified recently as the oldest jewelry yet known. Shell beads like you see in the photo were worn as far back as 100,000 years ago, and possibly even earlier than that. The wearing of symbolic ornamentation is among the very first signs of the cognitive development we associate with modern human beings.
Now this is what I find fascinating: these shell beads were found quite some distance from their source, from a few miles to hundreds of miles inland. Think about what that means in energy expended, walking hundreds of miles from home to acquire something of symbolic value. If you're not walking that far, then you're trading something dear you already own, or you're otherwise expending a certain amount of your life force towards acquiring these precious objects. And it's not because it will actually make you less hungry, or warmer, or well. Lost in the mists of time is the moment that that these shells went from being simply the protection for a snail to being something quite resonant: an object to be keenly desired as a symbol, conveying information about one's self, one's affiliations, one's power, or perhaps even, simply, one's desire for protection. Symbolic. Important. At the dawn of human consciousness, personal adornments--jewelry-- were among the first objects that had meaning.
Are we that different from our ancestors? Contrast ancient economy to modern economy. Would you walk three days to own a few dozen snail shells, perforated, incised and covered with red ochre? Perhaps not, but you might work three days at your job to acquire an object of beauty from your favorite jewelry store. And what I say to that is: Celebrate it! It's so much a part of who we are. It's what makes us human, this desire to wear something symbolic, something tangible. Jewelry always has, and always will, express our fundamental ideas about who we are and why we're here, without saying a word.
Photograph courtesy of Galatea, Jewelry by Artist
Contemporary innovative artist Chi Galatea Huynh has created a masterful bead, by using a turquoise bead nucleus inserted into a black-lipped oyster Pinctada Margaritifera. After the layers of black nacre are deposited onto the bead and the nucleus is completely hidden, Galatea reveals the turquoise beneath once again, by incising designs into the bead. Many of Galatea's pearls, like these examples, also contain a diamond set in gold.
For more information, visit http://www.galateausa.com/
Think about it: after thousands upon thousands of years, these beads are still telling their story about a life once lived. What will your jewel legacy be?