It was more than 82,000 years ago that the first ever necklace was made. That’s a hefty claim to make in the jewelry business, even for an antique!
The first beads
According to Matt Ridley in his book, The Rational Optimist, snail shells constituted the earliest necklace. It was made of Nassarius Vibex, a snail whose shell looks like a beautifully textured oval bead. Vestiges of red ochre and holes in unnatural places suggested that the fossilized Nassarius shells were strung on string or other fibrous material to form a necklace.
Forty-seven such beads were found in Morocco in a place near the city of Taforalt called Grottes de Pigeons. Others of a similar nature turned up in Algeria, Israel, and South Africa. All of the Nassarius finds are believed to have been worn as necklaces, representing the very earliest known personal adornment as jewelry. Several shells date back as far as 120,000 years, before the emergence of human civilizations or modern man.
Barter and trade
Educated speculation has it that the Nassarius snail shell beads might also have been used in the very earliest barter and trade. Jewelry has always been known as a symbol of power and means. Also as money. It must have been known before known civilizations began that the shells might be traded. The Algerian and Israeli Nassarius artifacts were found inland, away from the sea coasts were the shells were undoubtedly found and probably carried inland by hand-to-hand trade.
Fish tank inhabitant
Today, Nassarius snails are popular inhabitants of aquariums. Their diet consists of fish tank detritus, fish waste, and decaying organics. These scavengers do a good job of keeping the fish tank clean by quite natural means. And run no risk at all of becoming one’s next necklace design!
Citizen of the seas
Before coming to fish tanks, Nassarius snails exist in abundance in the sandy saltwater bottoms of the Atlantic, Caribbean, and eastern Pacific Oceans. They rarely grow beyond an inch long, and are recognizable by the long tubular protrusion on one end. This is a siphon used by the snail to breathe, not to dig or scavenge for food.
It’s all business
Before coming to our modern-day fish tanks, the ancient Nassarius snail shells served the cave gals as jewelry, and served all of mankind in the earliest development phases of trade and business.
Not sure what you think, but to me that’s a mindblower!
Sources: Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist, HarperCollins, New York, 2010, p. 53.