Thousands of years before Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, small accounts helped humans make social connections. A decade-long study of more than 1,500 beads made from ostrich eggshells and found in Africa has revealed a 50,000-year-old social network, archaeologists say.Donut-shaped beads are among the earliest types of personal adornment found in the archaeological record, and some traditional hunter-gatherer groups in southern Africa still make and use the beads today.
People made them to communicate symbolic messages, the way we could wear a wedding ring today, to indicate something about social status, wealth, or position in society. said Jennifer Miller, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of archeology by Max Planck. Institute of Human History Sciences, Jena, Germany.
They studied 1,516 accounts (1,238 of which were first described) that originated from 31 different sites in southern and eastern Africa and spanned the last 50,000 years. Comparing the different characteristics of the beads, diameter and thickness, they found that between 33,000 and 50,000 years ago, people at sites throughout southern and eastern Africa.
spanning a distance of more than 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles), they were using almost identical accounts.”It’s kind of mind-boggling that these people, who lived 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, would have had some kind of social network that stretched such a long distance. The oldest accounts come from East Africa, the study found, and likely spread south across the continent from there. The authors described it as the oldest social network ever identified and the most distant Stone Age “stylistic connection” ever documented.
While the accounts may have been traded directly in some way, Miller thought it was most likely the knowledge of how to do them that was traded. From what we’re seeing, it looks like a single origin that spread from that region, sharing the same style,” she said.
“Possibly people would have seen this new thing that people were wearing or making and thought, ‘Oh that’s great.’ And then he did it, “Miller said. And in that way, instead of getting these accounts outright, it could have been more of a cool new copy. However, this network, represented by a similar style of beads, seemed to have been broken 33,000 years ago.