A new study confirms previous scant evidence and supports a multistep evolutionary scenario for the culturalization of the human body.
The new study, which was conducted by Francesco d'Errico, Karen Loise van Niekerk, Lila Geis and Christopher Stuart Henshilwood, from Bergen University in Norway and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa, is newly published in the Journal of Human Evolution. Its significant findings provide vital information about how and when we may have started developing modern human identities.
Karen Loise van Niekerk
The shells were all found in the Blombos Cave, on the southern Cape of South Africa’s coastline. Similar shells have been found in North Africa, other sites in South Africa and the Mediterranean Levant, which means that the argument is supported by evidence from other sites, not just Blombos Cave.
Confirms scant evidence of early beadwork
In other words, the unperforated and naturally perforated shells provide evidence that marine shells were collected and possibly used as personal ornaments before the development of more advanced techniques to modify the shells for use in beadworks at around 70 years ago.
Van Niekerk says that they know for sure that these shells are not the remains of edible shellfish species that could have been collected and brought to the site for food.
“We know this because they were already dead when collected, which we can see from the condition of most of the shells, as they are waterworn or have growths inside them, or have holes made by a natural predator or from abrasion from wave action.”
The researchers measured the size of the shells and the holes made in them, as well as the wear on the edges of the holes that developed while the shells were worn on strings by humans. They also looked at where the shells came from in the site to see whether they could be included in different groups of beads found close together that could have belonged to single items of beadwork. These techniques provide insights into the potential use of these shells for symbolic purposes.
Early signs of possibly creation of identity
Van Niekerk says that they identified 18 new marine snail shells from 100 to 70 years ago, that could have been used for symbolic purposes, and proposed a multistep progression for the culturalisation of the human body with roots in the deep past.