Trail of African bling reveals 50,000-year-old social network | Archaeology

Scientists have uncovered the world’s oldest social network, an online of connections that flourished 50,000 years in the past and stretched for hundreds of miles throughout Africa.

However not like its trendy digital equal, this historic internet of social bonds used a much more prosaic medium. It relied on the sharing and buying and selling of beads made of ostrich eggshells – one of humanity’s oldest varieties of private adornment.

The analysis by scientists in Germany concerned the examine of greater than 1,500 of these beads, which have been dug up at greater than 30 websites throughout southern and east Africa. Cautious evaluation means that individuals who made the beads – that are nonetheless manufactured and worn by hunter-gatherers in Africa at this time – have been exchanging them over huge distances, serving to to share symbolic messages and to strengthen alliances.

“It’s like following a path of breadcrumbs,” stated the examine’s lead writer, Jennifer Miller, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human Historical past within the metropolis of Jena. “The beads are clues, scattered throughout time and house, simply ready to be observed.”


The examine, printed in Nature final week, in contrast beads discovered at 31 websites in southern and japanese Africa, spanning greater than 1,800 miles. By evaluating the surface diameter of a shell, the diameter of the holes inside them, and the thickness of the partitions of the eggshell, the scientists discovered that about 50,000 years in the past folks in japanese and southern Africa began to make almost similar beads out of ostrich eggs.

Map: south and east Africa

But these teams and communities have been separated by huge distances, which suggests the existence of a long-distance social network that stretched over hundreds of miles, connecting folks in far-flung areas. “The result’s shocking, however the sample is obvious,” stated the examine’s different writer, Yiming Wang, who can be based mostly on the Max Planck.

Ostrich eggshell beads are some of the oldest varieties of self-decoration discovered within the archaeological document, though they weren’t the primary to be adopted by Homo sapiens. Scientists consider women and men began daubing themselves with the reddish pigment ochre about 200,000 years in the past, earlier than beginning to put on beads 75,000 years in the past.

Nonetheless, the decoration business actually took off about 50,000 years in the past in Africa, with the manufacture of the primary ostrich eggshell beads – the earliest standardised type of jewelry recognized to archaeology. This was the world’s first “bling” and its use represents one of humanity’s longest-running cultural traditions, involving the expression of identification and relationships. As Miller put it: “These tiny beads have the ability to disclose massive tales about our previous.”

Traditional beads made from ostrich egg shell, holes are hand drilled one at a time
Conventional beads comprised of ostrich egg shell, with holes hand drilled one after the other. {Photograph}: Majority World/Common Photos Group/Getty Photos

Or as archaeologist Michelle Langley of Griffith College in Queensland, Australia, has stated: “Bling is effective: it tells us one thing about the one who wore it. Extra bling within the archaeological document signifies extra interactions. Traded bling tells us who was speaking to whom.”

The essential level about ostrich eggshell jewelry is, as an alternative of counting on an merchandise’s pure dimension or form, people started to form the shells immediately and create alternatives for variations in type to develop. The ensuing patterns gave the researchers a route by which they might hint cultural connections, although it’s unclear if the ostrich eggshell beads studied by Miller and Wang have been traded between teams or if it was the data of the best way to manufacture them that was exchanged. Most proof factors to the latter.

The world’s first social network didn’t final. About 33,000 years in the past, the sample of bead-wearing abruptly modified: they disappeared from southern Africa whereas persevering with in east Africa. Miller and Wang recommend climatic adjustments lay behind this, bringing an finish to the planet’s oldest social network – albeit after 17,000 years.

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