ABSTRACT: Beads made of mollusc shells form an integral part of modern humans’ material culture. Middle Palaeolithic sites in South Africa and the Levant yielded non-utilitarian shells, in particular complete Glycymeris valves that were collected from at least 160 ka. The first appearance of perforated gastropod shell beads begins around 140 ka in North Africa. Use-wear analysis on naturally perforated Glycymeris shells from Qafzeh Cave, Israel, showed they had been suspended on string. We conclude that between 160 ka BP and 140 ka BP there was a shift from collecting complete valves to perforated shells, which reflects both the desire and the technological ability to suspend shell beads on string to be displayed on the human body. A survey of the literature on Upper Palaeolithic bead assemblages, demonstrates the evolutionary nature of adornment behavior: Not only shell, but also ostrich eggshell beads were added in Africa, and bone and tooth beads in Europe. Beads have thus become a must, forming an element of communication between humans and might also have had a deeper spiritual meaning.
Dr. Daniella E. Bar-Yosef Mayer is a zooarchaeologist specializing in mollusks and studies both shell and stone beads from archaeological sites. She has been an associate of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University since 1992 and is affiliated as an associate of Harvard University Department of Anthropology, Archaeology program during the 2021-2022 academic year. She earned her Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2000. Previous experience includes teaching at the Department of Maritime Civilizations, University of Haifa. At present she is collections manager for palaeontology and archaeomalacology at The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Tel Aviv University and a research associate of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. In 2003 she founded the Archaeomalacology Working Group of ICAZ (International Council for Archaeozoology). Current research projects include the shells of Upper Palaeolithic Manot Cave in Israel, as well as the beads of Neolithic Nahal Hemar Cave and Iron Age Timna. She published over 140 papers on shell and bead assemblages from Israel, Sinai, Turkey and Eritrea.
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