The discovery of small perforated sea shells, in the Cave of Pigeons in Taforalt, eastern Morocco, has shown that the use of bead adornments in North Africa is older than thought. Dating from 82 000 years ago, the beads are thought to be the oldest in the world. As adornments, together with art, burial and the use of pigments, are considered to be among the most conclusive signs of the acquisition of symbolic thought and of modern cognitive abilities, this study is leading researchers to question their ideas about the origins of modern humans. The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences on June 4 2007, was carried out by a multidisciplinary team made up of researchers at CNRS, working with scientists from Morocco, the UK, Australia and Germany.
It was long thought that the oldest adornments, which were then dated as being 40 000 years old, came from Europe and the Middle East. However, since the discovery of 75 000 year-old carved beads and ochers in South Africa, this idea has been challenged, and all the more so with the recent discovery in Morocco of beads that are over 80 000 years old. The discoveries all indicate the presence of a much older symbolic material culture in Africa than in Europe or the Middle East.