Scientists follow ancient clues to reveal oldest social network

Ancient ostrich eggshells are evidence of the oldest social network.

Jennifer Miller

In a way, way, way, before the invention of Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, the researchers say, there was a social network that once existed in Africa — and the startling revelation comes to us through a bunch of ostrich eggshells.

Among the oldest ornaments ever made, dating back as much as 50,000 years, these neutral-coloured, Cheerio-shaped beads, made from the shells of ostrich eggs, are unique hallmarks of antiquity.

“These little beads have the potential to reveal big stories about our past,” Jennifer Miller of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said in a statement. Miller is also the lead author of a study on the ancient web, published Monday in the journal Nature.

From time immemorial, artisans snacked on ostrich eggs and divided the remaining shells into many pieces. Then they drill a hole in the center of the pieces, presumably attaching them to a necklace. Each one can be shaped and sized according to taste, so different cultures are believed to have made their own patterns. In fact, this practice still exists today.

modern bead necklace

A series of modern ostrich eggshells from East Africa.

Hans Sil

Identifying where each design comes from can help us understand cultural trends and exchanges across regions. The tracking procedure is like tracking fashion data, linking it to the latest fashion trends, and then linking the fashion makers to each other.

“It’s like following a string of breadcrumbs,” Miller said. “Beads are clues, scattered across time and space, just waiting to be noticed.”

The pattern is clear

In the search for such cultural pathways in Africa, Miller and colleagues analyzed 1,500 ostrich eggshells from the past 50,000 years, all found within the continent. After studying them for more than a decade, they realized that some of the pieces — dating between 50,000 and 33,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic — were identical in characteristics such as diameter and thickness.

This indicates an intersection of information between the ancients for about 20,000 years.

“The result is surprising, but the pattern is clear,” study co-author Yiming Wang, also from the Department of Archeology at the Max Planck Institute, said in a statement. “For 50,000 years we’ve examined it, this is the only time period in which the properties of a bead are the same.”

Here’s the kicker. Some of the identical beads originated in the eastern part of Africa and others in the southern part, about 1,864 miles (3,000 km) apart, which leaves some possible explanations: people in both regions came simultaneously with the exact same bead scheme; One culture did this first, then shared the pattern with the other; Or perhaps a cross-country gift exchange took place.

Unless telepathy or sheer serendipity is involved, last options are likely to be the case. But since the distance between the locations is so large, the design or gift information must have traveled not through one or two people, but through several people before reaching the final destination. Imagine an extraordinarily successful mobile game, or in other words, an oral social network.

Researchers say this evidence points to the oldest social network ever.

Unfortunately, about 33,000 years ago, bean twins stopped appearing, according to the team’s database. The study speculates that the cause of the disappearance was the climatic changes documented at the time, such as heavy rainfall and the inundation of river banks, which created a barrier between the two regions.

Eventually, all communications will likely stop. Fast-forward several millennia and a plethora of modern social networks – cue Facebook.

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.