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For Prehistoric Artisans, Freshwater Mussel Shells Were The Material Of Choice

A new study suggests that 6000 years ago, people from all over Europe shared the cultural tradition of using freshwater mussel shells to make ornaments.

A global team of researchers comprising academics from the University of York, extracted ancient proteins from the prehistoric shell ornaments, which look very similar despite being in distant places in Denmark, Romania and Germany, and found that everyone took control of the Mother Of freshwater mussel pearls.

The decorations were made between 4200 and 3800 a.c. and were even found in areas of the coast where there would be many other shells available.

The archaeological evidence suggests that the ornaments, known as "double buttons", may have been pressed on the leather to decorate bracelets or belts.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Beatrice Demarchi, of the Department of Archeology at the University of York and the University of Turin (Italy), said: "We were surprised to discover that the ornaments which were made of freshwater mussels as they are highly appreciated by prehistoric artisans wherever they were in Europe and the cultural group they belonged to. Our study suggests the existence of an intercultural tradition at a European level for the manufacture of these double buttons. "

As a source of raw material in prehistoric times, freshwater mollusks have often been overlooked (despite the strength and resilience of mother-of-pearl) as various archaeologists believed that their local origin made them less "prestigious" than the exotic seashells.

The co-author of the article, Dr. André Colonese, from the Department of Archeology at the University of York, said: "The ornaments are associated with the Late Mesolithic, the Late Neolithic and the Copper Age cultures. They lived as hunter-gatherers, but in the South, they were farmers with the change to a more established lifestyle.

"The fact that these ornaments look consistently similar and are made from the same material suggests that there may have been interaction between these different groups of people at this time.

"They might have had a combined knowledge or culture about how to make these ornaments and clearly had a sophisticated understanding of the natural environment and what resources to use."

Shellfish shells contain a very small proportion of proteins compared to other bio-mineralized tissues, such as bone, which makes analysis difficult.

By: Preeti Narula