Forget Facebook: Scientists May Have Unearthed World's Oldest Social Network
12:22 GMT 16.01.2022 (Updated: 12:56 GMT 14.04.2023)
It appears that thousands of years ago, people in Africa managed to make social connections without Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, or any of the modern-day communication platforms that many can't do without.
Archaeologists have unearthed what they say is the world's oldest social network
that spread for thousands of miles between southern and eastern Africa and that took on trading beads made of ostrich eggshells (OES).
A decade-long study of more than 1,500 ancient OES beads in 30 African cities was conducted by a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, including lead authors Jennifer Miller and Yiming Wang.
The study, which was published in the journal Nature, found that those who made the beads 50,000 years ago exchanged them across huge distances, thus helping people share symbolic messages and strengthen alliances at the time.
Miller described "these tiny beads" as something that has "the power to reveal big stories about our past", adding, "it's like following a trail of breadcrumbs; the beads are clues, scattered across time and space, just waiting to be noticed".
"We know that genetically these groups had some sort of contact, but there so far has been no cultural evidence. It's kind of mind-boggling that these people, who lived 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, would have had some kind of social network that spread over such a long distance", the researcher emphasised.
Wang, in turn, pointed out that the result of the research is "surprising, but the pattern is clear".
"Throughout the 50,000 years we examined, this is the only time period that the bead characteristics are the same", the scientist said.
He was referring to the study's findings that suggested the existence of an ancient "social network" spanning more than 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles) and connecting people in the two African regions, where almost identical OES beads were used.
Unfortunately, this network finally ceased to exist in southern Africa 33,000 years ago, in what the researchers explained could have been caused by a major shift in global climate. This is not the case, by the way, with ostrich eggshells, which are still manufactured and worn by hunter-gatherers in present-day Africa.