Ostrich eggshell beads are some of the oldest ornaments made by humankind, and they can be found dating back at least 50,000 years in Africa.
…”In the modern world, migration, cultural contact, and economic change often create tension,” says Sawchuk, “ancient peoples experienced these situations too, and the patterns in cultural objects like ostrich eggshell beads give us a chance to study how they navigated these experiences.”
…The ostrich eggshell beads reflect different responses to the introduction of herding between eastern and southern Africa. In southern Africa, new bead styles appear alongside signs of herding, but do not replace the existing forager bead traditions. On the other hand, beads from the eastern Africa sites showed no change in style with the introduction of herding. Although eastern African bead sizes are consistently larger than those from southern Africa, the larger southern African herder beads fall within the eastern African forager size range, hinting at contact between these regions as herding spread. “These beads are symbols that were made by hunter-gatherers from both regions for more than 40,000 years,” says lead author Jennifer Miller, “so changes—or lack thereof—in these symbols tells us how these communities responded to cultural contact and economic change.”
…This study shows that examining old collections can generate important findings without new excavation,” says Miller, “and we hope that future studies will take advantage of the wealth of artifacts that have been excavated but not yet studied.”