Oldest Bone Bead in Americas Unearthed by Archaeologists

Archaeologists in Wyoming have made a remarkable discovery: a tube-shaped bead made of bone that is about 12,940 years old. The bead, found at the La Prele Mammoth site in Converse County, is the oldest known bead in the Americas. It represents an important marker indicating increased social and cultural complexity among some of the earliest Americans. In this article, we will explore the details of the discovery, the context of the site, the origin and function of the bead, and the significance of the finding for our understanding of the prehistoric past.

The La Prele Mammoth Site

The La Prele Mammoth site is located near Douglas, Wyoming, along the North Platte River. It was first discovered in 2006 by a local landowner who noticed some bones eroding from a hillside. He contacted the University of Wyoming archaeology Professor Todd Surovell, who led a team of researchers to excavate and study the site. The site preserves the remains of a killed or scavenged sub-adult Columbian mammoth and an associated camp occupied during the time the animal was butchered. The mammoth was radiocarbon dated to about 12,940 years ago, making it one of the youngest mammoths ever found in North America. Archaeologists have also unearthed more than 40,000 stone tools, bone needles, fire pits and other artifacts from the Clovis people, who arrived in North America via the Bering Land Bridge before 13,000 years ago. The Clovis are known for their distinctive spearheads, but they disappeared around 12,750 years ago, coinciding with the onset of the Younger Dryas period and the extinction of some large animals.

The Bone Bead

The bone bead is about 7 millimeters in length, and its internal diameter averages 1.6 millimeters. It has several grooves on the outside and a slight red color that might be from the surrounding soil. The bead was discovered in 2016 near a hearth that contained burned bison bones and charcoal. To determine the origin of the bone bead, the researchers extracted collagen for zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS), which allowed them to gain insights about the chemical composition of the bone. The results indicated that the bead was made from either a metapodial or a proximal phalanx of a hare in the genus Lepus. This finding represents the first secure evidence for the use of hares during the Clovis period. The researchers ruled out the possibility that the bead could have been the result of carnivore consumption and digestion and not created by humans; they concluded that the bead was likely used to decorate their bodies or clothing. The researchers also compared the bead to other bone beads from around the world and found that it was similar to some beads from Europe and Asia that date to around 40,000 years ago.

The Significance of the Discovery

The discovery of the bone bead is significant for several reasons. First, it shows that some of the earliest Americans were not only hunters of large mammals, but also had a diverse subsistence strategy that included smaller animals such as hares. Hares are fast and elusive prey that require skill and coordination to catch. They also provide fur, meat and bones that can be used for various purposes. Second, it demonstrates that they had advanced skills in bone working and ornament making, which implies a high degree of social and cultural complexity. Bone working requires specialized tools and techniques to shape and polish the material. Ornament making reflects personal identity, social status and aesthetic preferences. Third, it provides a rare glimpse into another side of life that is often overlooked in archaeology: clothing and decoration. Clothing and decoration are important aspects of human behavior that express individuality, group affiliation and adaptation to different environments.

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