University of Wyoming archaeologists have uncovered evidence of early beadmaking among some of the earliest Americans. Excavating at the La Prele Mammoth site in Wyoming, Professor Todd Surovell’s team found a tiny bone bead dating to around 12,900 years ago. At just 7 millimeters long, it’s the oldest known bead discovered in the Americas.

La Prele preserves remnants of butchery from when ancient hunters processed a juvenile mammoth. Surovell returned hoping to learn more about these early inhabitants. Carefully analyzing sediment just one meter from other flint tools and animal bones, one researcher spotted the nondescript bead.

Using a technique called Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry, they identified it as crafted from jackrabbit bone. This shows Paleoindians supplementing big-game hunting with smaller prey like jackrabbits even during the Clovis period, over 12,000 years ago.

Named for an early site in New Mexico, Clovis culture was renowned for distinctive flint points but evidence of other activities has been scarce.

To confirm human creation rather than digestion, Surovell noted predators were rare at La Prele. Grooves carved into the bone resembled workmanship by stone or teeth too.

Decorating the body or clothing, beads conveyed identity thousands of years before settled communities. At a mere 7 millimeters, its age and meaning could have gone undetected without high-tech analysis.

Surovell specializes in early Native American lifeways, having investigated Great Plains and Rocky Mountain archaeology for decades. Experience across North America and in Eurasia lends insight into how tiny choices were preserved in the layers still speaking to us after millennia.

Each excavated item provides another piece to envision lives so distant in time yet grounded in relatable practices of adornment, craft, and cultural expression.

This single bead challenges assumptions while enriching context around Clovis adaptations. As technology unveils finer archaeological detail, our understanding of Indigenous cultures continues broadening and deepening.


Sources

University of Wyoming | Surovell, T.A., Litynski, M.L., Allaun, S.A. et al. Use of hare bone for the manufacture of a Clovis bead. Sci Rep 14, 2937 (2024). doi.org/10.1038/s41598-024-53390-9


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