May 7 (UPI) – About 6,000 years ago, the freshwater mussel served as the ornamental shell of choice for prehistoric artisans.
When the researchers badyzed ornamental shells from all of prehistoric Europe, they discovered that the artifacts were composed of nacre from freshwater mussels.
The so-called double buttons, which would have been pressed into bracelets and leather belts, were found in Denmark, Germany and Romania. They were made between 4200 and 3800 BC. Some of the ancient ornaments were found among the coastal sites, where a variety of shells would have been available.
Archaeologists have previously overlooked freshwater molluscs as the source material for cultural objects. The researchers badumed that their ubiquity would have made them less attractive, and therefore less valuable and sought after.
"We were surprised to discover that all the ornaments were made of freshwater mussels because it implies that this material was very appreciated by the prehistoric artisans, wherever they were in Europe and the cultural group they belonged to," Beatrice Demarchi, an archaeologist at the University. of York, he said in a press release. "Our study suggests the existence of an intercultural tradition at the European level for the manufacture of these double buttons."
The adornments date from a period of change in continental Europe. Many of the peoples of Europe were still hunter-gatherers, but in the south, Mediterranean farmers imported new ways of life. Soon, agriculture and new cultural traditions would transform all of Europe.
Despite the fragmentation and cultural and socioeconomic instability, the latest findings suggest that disparate groups in the region shared some cultural and technological traditions.
"The fact that these embellishments look consistently similar and are made from the same material suggests that there may have been some kind of interaction between these different groups of people at this time," said York archaeologist Andre Colonese. "They may have had a shared knowledge or tradition about how to make these ornaments and clearly had a sophisticated understanding of the natural environment and what resources to use."
The findings, published this week in the eLife magazine, were made possible thanks to a new method to extract proteins from mollusc shells.
"This is the first time researchers have been able to retrieve ancient protein sequences from prehistoric shell ornaments to identify the type of mollusk they are made of," Demarchi said.