For many North African nations, the significance of marine shell beads transcends the psychological feeling of looking good. It was a medium of communicating and reinforcing their identity as a people. It was simply a way tribesmen who lived at the Bizmoune Cave in Morocco identified and differentiated themselves from the neighboring communities.
This cultural reality came to light after a team of researchers unearthed shell beads used by ancient men who lived at the Bizmoune Cave for some 142,000 years. The archaeologists after analyzing the 33 shell beads dug from the cave linked it to the social behavior of the tribesmen who existed during the time period, according to Nature Asia. They arrived at the age of the beads by using uranium-series dating.
Many of the shell beads that the team found can be traced to a type of sea snail called Tritia gibbousula which is noted to originate from North Africa. Similar shells picked from the region of Middle Stone Age sites showed they were around the ages of 80,000 to 100,000 years ago.
Co-author of the research findings at the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage, Morocco, Abdeljalil Bouzouggar, said all but one of the shell beads were not traceable to the sea snail. He indicated that the linkage between the presence of the shell beads at Bizmoune Cave and the Middle Stone Age sites reveals the diffusion of cultural innovation during the period.
He explained that the shell beads were also a way of passing down the tradition of bead making from generation to generation. A similar finding which was akin to North African discovery was one in Europe dating back 40,000 years, making the shell beads in North Africa older than the artefacts in Europe.
Bouzouggar said this shows that the culture of using shells for personal ornament existed in Africa before Europe. Its popularity possibly lies in the element of it being a cultural identification instrument and means of communicating. He said one striking thing is the evidence that the early men sought to enhance the shell beads by chipping and polishing them with stone tools.
Bouzouggar said another important feature they discovered was that the beads were worn regularly because of instances of fading they picked up on some of them. He added that the prehistoric tribesmen also colored the beads with either ochre or natural iron oxide pigment.
He claimed that the colors could not have possibly emanated from the site where the beads were buried and the only reason the colors survived was that it was applied purposively and for symbolic reasons.
An anthropologist with the University of California, Davis, USA, Teresa Steele, said the shell beads give an insight into the way of life and the essence of identity to the tribesmen of Bizmoune Cave. She indicated that while arguments can be made that beads have been found in parts of north-western Africa, what is peculiar about North America is that the use of the shell beads transcended its original location.
She added that it rather became a cultural linkage among people in different geographical areas and explain the process of evolution among the various cultures.