Worlds’ Earliest Known Iconic Jewelry Discovered in Essaouira, Morocco

Iconic Shell Jewelry

The world’s earliest known iconic jewelry was discovered in the Moroccan coastal city of Essaouira, also known as a leading UNESCO World Heritage Site. The discovery was made by an international team of 26 researchers, including two archaeologists from the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage Sciences in Rabat (INSAP), along with colleagues from the United States, Spain, Germany, the UK, and France.

A set of 33 shell beads were discovered at the mouth of Bizmoune Cave, about 10 miles from Essaouira, a city on the Moroccan’s Atlantic coast. The jewelry dates back between 142,000 and 150,000-year-old and may have been worn as earrings or on a necklace. Its appearance signals crucial development in human cognition and social relations.

The world’s earliest known iconic jewelry was discovered in the Moroccan coastal city of Essaouira.

At a press conference held at Dar Souiri, Andre Azoulay, the Secretary of King Mohammed V,  stated that “Essaouira has experienced today one of the most exhilarating and moving moments of its long history with this discovery, in the Bizmoune cave.” Lead author, Steven L. Kuhn, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona affirmed, this is the earliest known evidence of a form of nonverbal human communication and hints at the origin of our cognitive skills. According to Professor Kuhn, these ornamental pieces of material culture are symbolic and probably a way for people to express their identity and belonging.

“They were probably part of the way people expressed their identity with their clothing,”. Kuhn stated, “They show that it was present even hundreds of thousands of years ago, and that humans were interested in communicating to bigger groups of people than their immediate friends and family.”

The beads were made from sea snail shells and measured roughly half an inch in length. Holes in the centre of the beads, as well as other markings from wear and tear, indicate that they were hung on strings or from clothing, Kuhn said.

Ancient beads from Morocco are associated with the Aterian, a Middle Stone Age culture known with the use of bows and arrows to hunt a large variety of animals. Before the discovery, the first known shell beads were found in the Cave of Smugglers in Temara and El Mnasra in Kenitra, which date back around 103,000 to 122,000 years ago. Other shell beads were discovered in the Skhul cave in Israel, are dated between 100,000 and 135,000 years ago.

This new discovery confirms Morocco as an archaeological site of interest for researchers within the North African region

For more information about Touring UNESCO Essaouira’s & its History