Archaeologists think they have found evidence that in one respect people were behaving like thoroughly modern humans as early as 100,000 years ago: they were apparently decorating themselves with a kind of status-defining jewelry — the earliest known shell necklaces.
If this interpretation is correct, it means that human self-adornment, considered a manifestation of symbolic thinking, was practiced at least 25,000 years earlier than previously thought.
An international team of archaeologists, in an article in Friday's issue of the journal Science, reported their analysis of small shells with distinctive perforations that appeared to have been strung together as ornamental beads. Chemical study showed that the two shells from the Skhul rock shelter in Israel were more than 100,000 years old, and the single shell from Oued Djebbana, in Algeria, was about 90,000 years old.
The apparent importance is noted here: The hypothesis challenges the traditional view that modern Homo sapiens underwent a significant behavioral change about 50,000 years ago, possibly the result of some genetic modification that afforded a greater capability for symbolic thinking and creativity in arts and crafts.
Although that doesn't necessarily mean hat there was nothing "artistic" before then; it could have been present in low frequencies for a long time before a genetic change enabled far more elaborate work. That is, it doesn't have to be a binary switch.
Update: More here.