Jewelry and the Course of Human History
Whether you wear it as an object of beauty, a physical memento of commitment or a personal connection to a memory, we know your jewelry is important to you. Nowadays, though, there are those who find jewelry to be extraneous objects. With the exception of family heirlooms and wedding bands, some believe jewelry to be unnecessary and even unimportant.
While we certainly don’t feel this way this segment of the population does exist. Anthropologists and archaeologists, however, most definitely recognize the value and significance of jewelry. Ironically, it’s jewelry’s supposed “extraneousness” that piques these professionals’ interest. Primitive Man
Let’s take a trip back to the beginning of human history. Regardless of your beliefs on the origin of man or evolution, I think we can all agree that life was tough and that early humans didn’t get to enjoy many frills.
To be sure, until only recently on the timeline of humanity were we afforded the luxury of focusing energy on anything other than literal survival! Man’s physical attributes put him fairly low on the food chain. Thus, we were forced to create tools in order to survive. Whether it was hunting and gathering, seeking clean water or constructing shelter and clothing to provide protection from the elements, the life of primitive man was dictated by necessity.
So how did we go from rubbing sticks together to erecting tremendous skyscrapers? When was artistic and abstract thought developed? When did we begin to develop the basis of day-to-day life, as we know it today? These are questions that historians have been trying to solve for centuries. As it turns out, the answers may lie in “superfluous” objects that bring about criticism by some in the present day, namely, jewelry.
So what does jewelry have to do with the development of mankind? The answer - it seems - is quite a bit! Notions of Beauty
As we can see in the world today, artistry and industry are more interrelated than they’re usually given credit for. While some find the two to stand in stark contrast to each other, it only takes a look around to see that art is operating – at least on some level – in nearly everything.
The computer, tablet or phone you’re reading this article on was built to look a certain way. The architecture of the building you’re inside of was crafted with both aesthetics and practicality in mind. The clothing you’re wearing provides you with protection but was also tailored with a specific style.
It’s the intertwining of function and fine art that’s created the world we live in today. But as we mentioned above, it wasn’t always like this, so when was the transition made?
Because art represents abstract thought – which indicates higher brain functionality as a whole - the easiest way to pinpoint the onset of modern humanity is to specify when it began to create art in the first place.
This is why jewelry is such a crucial artifact.
While basic drawings and diagrams show us the beginnings of man’s cognitive development, it could be argued that these memes (no, not those funny pictures on the internet!) were intended for record keeping as opposed to expression. Jewelry is humanity’s oldest art form. It’s jewelry and adornment that reveal when early humans began to understand the concept of beauty. The Origins of Modern Man
If you’ve followed me up until this point, you’re probably waiting for an answer as to when it all began. Unfortunately, neither I – nor anyone else for that matter – is privy to this information. There’s no reason to fret, however, because scientists are getting closer to a more definitive answer every day!
For instance, in 2004, scientists in the southern cape of Africa discovered a series of painted, snail-shell beads that date back to 75,000 years old!
According to one source, the shells seem to have been chosen according to their size and were marked with similar patterns. This is an extraordinary piece of evidence as to when humans began to focus on…well…anything other than mere survival. While this particular piece of jewelry is primitive - along with the individual who created it – its discovery helps us to work out a timeline of our cognitive evolution.
Further north in Croatia in 2015, a series of objects were discovered during the excavation of a Neanderthal dig site. As it turns out, among these objects was a series of marked eagle talons that have been confirmed by researchers as jewelry. What’s more, this set of eagle talons (most likely beads) dates back 135,000 years ago!