Archaeologists made an interesting discovery at the Qafzeh Cave which is located close to the city of Nazareth, Israel. In addition to the dozens of human skeletons who lived in that area during the Mediterranean Paleolithic time period, they also unearthed several perforated shells.
What’s so interesting about these shells – many of which were painted with ochre – is that they were strung together with string to connect them into a necklace sometime between 160,000 and 120,000 years ago.
In an article I wrote back in April of this year (which can be read here), I discussed how the world’s oldest string was created by Neanderthals in Abri du Maras, France, about 50,000 years ago, so the fact that these Israeli shells were connected with string strongly contradicts previous reports that it was first created tens of thousands of years later – and in a completely different country nevertheless.
Daniella Bar-Yosef Mayer, who is from Tel Aviv University and an author of the study, explained this further, “Modern humans collected unperforated cockle shells for symbolic purposes at 160,000 years ago or earlier, and around 120,000 they started collecting perforated shells and wearing them on a string. We conclude that strings, which had many more applications, were invented within this time frame.”
The shells belonged to the Glycymeris nummaria species of bivalve mollusks that are quite common in the Mediterranean as well as the northeastern part of the Atlantic. Researchers found that the Qafzeh people brought the perforated shells back to their cave which was located 40 kilometres (25 miles) away from the sea. Interestingly, researchers analyzed shells that were unearthed at Misliya Cave (on the northern coast of Israel) and found that the ancient inhabitants of the location (between 240,000 and 160,000 years ago) collected Glycymeris shells that weren’t perforated – or that didn’t have holes in them.
And since only about 40 percent of the Glycymeris shells found on the beach are naturally perforated, that would indicate that in ancient times, the shells with the holes in them were deliberately collected and then put on a string to make jewelry.
In order to test her hypothesis, Bar-Yosef Mayer conducted an experiment where she strung up shells using string that was made from wild flax and exposed it to different conditions that would cause it to eventually wear down, such as simulated sweat. The results were very interesting as she found that the use-wear patterns were consistent with those found on the Qafzeh shells, such as scratch marks that would have been created by the string and other scrapes that could have been caused by the beads banging against each other (like on a necklace or bracelet).
This is an incredible discovery as it appears that string was created tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought and used for stylish jewelry during that time. A picture of the shells can be seen here.