World’s smallest palaeolithic ornamental beads unearthed in China

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Chinese archaeologists have unearthed the world’s smallest palaeolithic ornamental beads, in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

World's smallest palaeolithic ornamental beads unearthed in China
Photos of some of the ancient beads (the scale bar is 1 cm) [Credit: Yimin Yang et al., 
Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 2016]

The bead, made from ostrich eggshell and 1.26 millimetres in diameter, was discovered in an ancient site from the late Pleistocene dating between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago in Qingtongxia city.

Three similar beads, all smaller than 2 millimetres in diameter, were discovered at the same time, archaeologists said Monday.

The excavation was jointly conducted by Ningxia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology and the cultural relics administration of Qingtongxia from May to August.

World's smallest palaeolithic ornamental beads unearthed in China
Ostrich eggshell (OES) beads from Shuidonggou Locality 2 are dated to c. 31 ka cal BP 
[Credit: YiWei et al., Journal of Archaeological Science, 2017]

“It is incredible that it can be so well processed with such a small diameter. It is rare among similar ornaments unearthed in other sites around the world,” said Wang Huimin, a researcher with the Ningxia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Archaeologists said the beads showed excellent craftsmanship and the aesthetic tastes of ancient humans. They said further research is needed to determine the exact purpose or meaning of the beads.

It took the archaeologists five years to sift and wash thousands of cubic metres of dirt to find the beads. As many as eight sets of steel sieves were worn out in the process.

World's smallest palaeolithic ornamental beads unearthed in China
A microblade bit made of flint, which is affixed with lac and would be attached to the shaft of a bow drill 
[Credit: Yimin Yang et al., Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 2016]

In 2016, three beads all smaller than 2 millimeters in diameter, were found at the site, among which the smallest was 1.42 millimeters in diameter.

The excavation of the site in Qingtongxia is one of China’s top 10 archaeological finds of 2016, which unveiled more than 10,000 items, including stoneware, ornaments and plant seeds.

The finds are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Source: Xinhua [October 31, 2017]

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