Ancient Bone / Oldest Known Bead in The Americas

The hare bone bead. (Todd Surovell Photos)

The oldest known bead in the Americas has been unearthed at the La Prele Mammoth site, located in Converse County, Wyoming. According to archaeologists, this tube-shaped bead, crafted from bone, is approximately 12,940 years old. Really old artifacts are like a time machines; they let us peer back through hundreds or even thousands of years of history.

The La Prele Mammoth site was excavated for the first time in 1987. It is a Clovis site where scientists found the remains of a single Columbian mammoth. Recent excavations have resulted in many interesting finds that shed more light on the Clovis people. The research team’s analysis indicates that the bead was crafted from the metapodial or proximal phalanx bone of a hare. This discovery pushes the existing boundaries of our understanding of the use of hare bones for ornamental purposes back in time.

The bone bead is the oldest ever found in the Western hemisphere: it’s just 7 millimeters (0.28 inches) long and 2.9 mm (0.11 inches) in diameter.  The bead is also decorated with small grooves on the outside, reminding experts of other pieces of personal fashion that have been found before.

The ends of the bead. (Todd Surovell Photos)

According to the team that identified it, it has a lot to tell us about personal ornamentation in the Clovis culture. While it’s unknown how the Clovis used the beads, it’s possible that such ornaments served as markers of identity or group affiliation. Earlier research into prehistoric beads suggested that bead use originated when population densities increased, and encounters with unfamiliar people became common. However, it appears that the Clovis used beads when their human population densities were low, the study’s authors said. This bead serves as a tangible connection to the past, allowing researchers to explore the artistic, symbolic, and technological aspects of the culture that created it.


The La Prele Mammoth site in Converse County. (Todd Surovell Photo)

The Clovis people were an ancient Paleo-Indian culture that existed in North America around 13,000 to 12,600 years ago, during the end of the last Ice Age. They are named after the Clovis points, distinctive fluted projectile points that were used as spearheads and are often associated with their archaeological sites. The study of the Clovis culture has been instrumental in understanding the peopling of the Americas and the ways in which early human populations adapted to and interacted with their environments.

The research has been published in Scientific Reports.