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Imagine That! - The Modern Stone Age Family

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! - The Modern Stone Age Family

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

Cavemen. They're not necessarily the hunched over, fur-wearing, club-carrying prehistoric relatives you thought they were.

Imagine that!

When did our ancestors develop modern social behaviors we consider essentially "human"? New evidence says way earlier than previously thought!

At Blombos Cave, South Africa, archeologists have found tiny perforated shells -- forty-one of them -- that appear to have been strung together as beads...seventy-five thousand years ago. The oldest personal ornaments ever thirty-thousand years.

Why is wearing personal ornaments considered a "modern" behavior? Because it represents communication through symbols -- one of the defining characteristics of modern humans.

Christopher Henshilwood is the program director of the Blombos Cave project:

Henshilwood: "They had a capacity for symbolism, their behavior was mediated by symbolism, and in fact they looked and thought much like people do today."

Henshilwood says each shell appears to have been selected for size, and had holes and wear marks in similar positions. He says a sharp bone was used to bore the hole needed to thread the shellbeads into a necklace.

Putting a new spin on "antique" jewelry. I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at

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