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Shell Beads and Behavioral Modernity

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Shell Beads from Levantine Mousterian Early Modern Human Sites
The two perforated Nassarius gibbosulus from the Mousterian layers of Skhul, Scale = 1 cm.

The two perforated Nassarius gibbosulus from the Mousterian layers of Skhul, Scale = 1 cm.

Image courtesy of Drs. Marian Vanhaeren and Francesco d'Errico

The Mousterian industry is a Middle Paleolithic stone tool industry characterized by the so-called Levallois technique, a stone tool making technique that illustrates far more subtlety of manufacture than the earlier Acheulean hand axes. Mousterian is associated both with early modern humans and with our cousins, the Neanderthals. Levallois technique artifacts show up in the archaeological record about ~200,000 years ago, and they disappeared completely by ~30,000 years ago.

The four Glycymeris insubrica from Qafzeh Cave include both natural abrasion and purposeful grooving and perforating, and use-wear is visible on some of them. Notches and usewear patterns on some of them are interpreted as indications that the shells were suspended from a cord of some kind. Red ochre and manganese stains are also visible. Qafzeh cave is some 40 kilometers from the nearest Glycymeris habitat, and well above sea level. Unperforated shells were recovered from Levantine Mousterian sites of Ras el Kelb and Sefunim Rockshelter.

Skhul Cave (also called Es-Skhul), is located about 3.5 km from the Mediterranean shore. Four shell species (Acanthocardia deshayesii, Laevicardium crassum, Nassarius gibbosulus, and Pecten jacobaeus) were recovered from the cave during the original excavations in the 1930s. The shells were from layers which were subsequently dated to between 100-120,000 years BP; but the specific provenience was not recorded. Two of the Nassarius shells were examined and reported in 2006; they were found to have been purposefully perforated.

Sources and Further Information

Bibliography of Behavioral Modernity

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