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The Oldest Beads

Beads are one of the oldest forms of art. They have been used for tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) of years. The problem of identifying the earliest beads is discussed on this page. The question of why beads were even made is discussed here. Their role in human development is expanded here.

Wherever the first beads may have been found, their history shows that they have been very important. They are not merely decorative items. The desire for beads has lead to several technological revolutions.

When studying the earliest beads, I often take a continent-by-continent approach. To date, I have identified the oldest beads in Asia and the Americas. The oldest beads in Africa are of Ostrich Eggshell. What are likely to be somewhat older heads have recently been discovered in Turkey. See here.

In America, the oldest identified assemblage (group) of beads comes from the Lindenmeier site in Colorado. The beads were divided between the Denver Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian in Washington. After studying those in Denver, I did the same in Washington.

The Lindenmeier beads are especially interesting because of their variety. One must have traveled at least 550 miles (880 km) to reach the site, and that is in a straight line. They also compare well with beads from Old World sites of the same age (ca. 9500 B.C.). But at the Smithsonian I saw even older beads from a Clovis (Lindenmeier is a Folsom) site, the Sunrise (ocher) Mine.


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