Home Archeology History 12,940-Year-Old Bone Bead Found in Wyoming

12,940-Year-Old Bone Bead Found in Wyoming

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12,940-Year-Old Bone Bead Found in Wyoming

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient tube-shaped bead made of hare bone at the La Prele Mammoth site in Wyoming, the United States. This is the oldest known bead from the western hemisphere.

La Prele bone bead showing polished ends (upper) and side view with incisions (lower). Image credit: Surovell et al., doi: 10.1038/s41598-024-53390-9.

“The production and use of personal ornaments, most commonly beads, are important indicators of increasing human cultural and social complexity in the Paleolithic, appearing first in the Middle Stone Age of Africa and later in the Early Upper Paleolithic of Eurasia,” said University of Wyoming’s Professor Todd Surovell and colleagues.

“Although beads are not as well documented from early archaeological contexts in the Americas, several examples have been reported from Paleoindian localities indicating that the first migrants to the western hemisphere made and used personal ornamentation, whether to decorate their bodies and/or clothing.”

The archaeologists examined an ancient tube-shaped bead made from a hearth-centered activity area of the La Prele Mammoth site in Converse County, Wyoming, the United States.

“The La Prele Mammoth site is an Early Paleoindian site in Converse County, Wyoming along La Prele Creek near its confluence with the North Platte River,” they said.

“Test excavations in 1987 revealed the association of chipped stone artifacts with the partial remains of a subadult Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), and later excavations identified a nearby camp area preserving multiple hearth-centered activity areas.”

“The occupation surface was buried by low energy overbank deposits, and based on the average of five radiocarbon dates on bone, the occupation occurred 12,941 years ago.”

The bead is small, approximately 7 mm in length. Its internal diameter averages 1.6 mm, and it has a mean external diameter of 2.9 mm.

“Two deep parallel grooves with U-shaped cross-sections occur on the face of the bead aligned perpendicular to its long axis,” the researchers said.

“Whether these incisions are byproducts of manufacture, skinning, wear, or possibly decorations is not known, but similar grooves occur on Paleolithic and Archaic tubular bone beads. Both ends of the bead are highly smoothed and polished.”

“Although the bead is lightly coated in red ochre, the presence of ochre on its surface might be incidental as it was recovered from sediments that were stained by powdered hematite.”

To determine the origin of the bead, the scientists extracted collagen for zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry, also known as ZooMS, which allowed them gain insights about the chemical composition of the bone.

They concluded that the bead was made from either a metapodial (the bones that link the phalanges of the digits to the more proximal bones of the limb) or a proximal phalanx (a bone found in the fingers and toes of humans and other vertebrates) of a hare.

This finding represents the first secure evidence for the use of hares during the Clovis period, which refers to a prehistoric era in North America, particularly prominent about 12,000 years ago.

“We also considered the possibility that the bead could have been the result of carnivore consumption and digestion and not created by humans,” the authors said.

“However, carnivores were not common on this site, and the artifact was recovered 1 m from a dense scatter of other cultural materials.”

“Additionally, the grooves on the outside of the bead are consistent with creation by humans, either with stones or their teeth.”

“Beads like this one were likely used to decorate their bodies or clothing.”

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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T.A. Surovell et al. 2024. Use of hare bone for the manufacture of a Clovis bead. Sci Rep 14, 2937; doi: 10.1038/s41598-024-53390-9

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