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Cave Couture Volume 55 Number 3, May/June 2002
by Eric A. Powell

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40,000-year-old shell beads from Üçagizli Cave in Turkey (Mary Stiner) [LARGER IMAGE]

A population boom some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago may have given rise to some uniquely modern human behaviors--like flashy dressing. Archaeologists Mary Stiner and Steve Kuhn of the University of Arizona and Erksin Güleç of Ankara University say their study of animal bones suggests a rise in population density around the Mediterranean that accompanied, and may have even caused, a proliferation in objects of personal adornment like shell beads.

The archaeologists have noticed a shift in diet during this time from slow-reproducing animals that are relatively easy to capture ("unless," says Kuhn "you have a really bad back"), like tortoises and shellfish, to quickly reproducing, hard-to-catch game like rabbits and birds. They speculate that a burgeoning human population forced people to broaden their diet to include animals that were more difficult to hunt.

Finds of shell beads from places like Üçagizli Cave in Turkey and Ksar' Akil in Lebanon also suggest a growing population. "You use ornaments to identify things about yourself," says Kuhn. "The target audience for the beads is people who are more or less strangers, that know just enough about you to understand what ornaments mean. As populations grow, you deal with more strangers. Beads are a new form of communication, so that you know at a distance who the person is and how you should deal with them."

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© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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