Tibetan Turquoise Beads
When did humans first start wearing beads and why did they start? According to Lois Sherr Dubin, in the The History of Beads (2009, p. 19):
“… the earliest known beads are associated with Middle Paleolithic people. They were discovered at Skhul Cave on Mount Carmel and have been dated to approximately 108,000 B.C., at about the time Homo sapiens populations were replacing the Neanderthals and developing new and more complex cultures.”
Both those beads and some found at the nearby Qafzeh Cave dating from 92,000 B.C. were either naturally pierced or pierced by predators. But a group of 32 beads from Grotte des Pigeons in eastern Morocco, dating from 82,000 B.C., were intentionally perforated.
What is the significance of this? Anatomically, homo sapiens evolved to their current state approximately 200,000 years ago, but, for the first 100,000 years they exhibited little culture difference from their forbearers. Then, suddenly, between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago, something changed. They started using syntax as well as symbols for communication; they started using complex weapons like slings, bows and the atlatl; and they started to utilize adornment, painting themselves with ocher and wearing beads. Thus beads are one of the earliest, overt signs of the emergence of a new degree of mental complexity and human culture.