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Fashion may have emerged 80,000 years ago in the form of shell beads

     London: A new study by an international team of researchers from France, South Africa, Germany, Israel and the UK has confirmed that 80,000-year-old shell beads found in caves in North Africa represent some of the earliest evidence of the use of personal ornamentation, which also points to the dawn of modern human behaviour. According to a report carried out by the Planet Earth Online, the beads provide evidence that the people alive at the time were acting much like modern humans. "There is a problem with linking anatomically modern humans with behaviourally modern humans," said Professor Nick Barton of the University of Oxford UK, and one of the authors of the study. "These people may have looked like us, but were they behaving the same?" he added. The presence of the beads suggests the people who made and wore them behaved in ways we would recognize. Using symbolic items like shell beads to communicate ideas about the wearer requires skills found only in modern humans, including a well-developed language and the ability to use abstract concepts. The researchers analyzed 25 beads from four sites in North Africa from the Middle Palaeolithic period. The beads, consisting of the shells of sea snails called Nassarius, had been transported some distance from the marine environment in which they're usually found, and showed evidence of deliberate alterations. "We found evidence they had been strung together as in a necklace or bracelet," said Barton. The shells had been deliberately perforated using stone tools and the researchers found distinctive wear patterns which suggested they had been rubbing together. Wear marks around the perforations indicated the shells had been threaded on a string. Several had also been covered with a pigment called red ochre and one shell showed evidence of heating, possibly to alter its colour. As to what purpose the coloured beads served, Barton said, "What they were signalling, we're not entirely sure. Possibly, they were an insurance policy, if you had shared access to certain resources and wanted to identify yourself to members of another group." The beads may also have let wearers identify members of the same social group, preventing unnecessary conflicts. Alternatively, the beads might have provided personal information about the wearer, such as the wearer's position in the social hierarchy, or that they had passed through puberty and into adulthood. These beads might have also represented the origins of today's fashions.
-August 28, 2009

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