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Taking Beads Seriously: Prehistoric Forager Ornamental Traditions in Southeastern Europe.

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Ornaments are polysemic objects due to different meanings they convey in human societies-self-embellishment, means of exchange, markers of age and gender, indicators of social status, signs of power, non-verbal means of expression and communication. Beads have a privileged place in shedding light on the origins of modern cognition in human societies. While archaeological approaches to ancient symbolism have often been concerned with behavioral modernity of our species, anthropological studies have underlined the role of ornaments in the construction of personhood, identity, and social networks in traditional societies. Exploring an approach informed by anthropological and ethnographic theory, we discuss Paleolithic and Mesolithic bodily adornments found across southeastern Europe. We present a review of the evidence for long-term regional and diachronic differences and similarities in types of body adornment among prehistoric foragers of the region. Here we look at aspects of cultural transmission and transferability over time. This enables us to reconstruct a series of gestures involved in ornament manufacture and use, and to examine transmissions of technological know-hows, shifting aesthetic values, and demands for specific local and non-local materials, including marine shells transferred across this region over long distances (>400km). This evidence is further discussed by, on the one hand, taking a perspective that draws on emic understandings of ornaments in certain ethnographic contexts and, on the other hand, through a rethinking of the relevance of the structural anthropological mode of analysis championed by Lévi-Strauss.
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Special Issue: Personal Ornaments in Early Prehistory
Taking Beads Seriously:
Prehistoric Forager Ornamental Traditions in Southeastern Europe
ABSTRACT
Ornaments are polysemic objects due to dierent meanings they convey in human societies—self-embellishment,
means of exchange, markers of age and gender, indicators of social status, signs of power, non-verbal means of
expression and communication. Beads have a privileged place in shedding light on the origins of modern cogni-
tion in human societies. While archaeological approaches to ancient symbolism have often been concerned with
behavioral modernity of our species, anthropological studies have underlined the role of ornaments in the con-
struction of personhood, identity, and social networks in traditional societies.
Exploring an approach informed by anthropological and ethnographic theory, we discuss Paleolithic and Meso-
lithic bodily adornments found across southeastern Europe. We present a review of the evidence for long-term
regional and diachronic dierences and similarities in types of body adornment among prehistoric foragers of the
region. Here we look at aspects of cultural transmission and transferability over time. This enables us to recon-
struct a series of gestures involved in ornament manufacture and use, and to examine transmissions of technologi-
cal know-hows, shifting aesthetic values, and demands for specic local and non-local materials, including marine
shells transferred across this region over long distances (>400km). This evidence is further discussed by, on the
one hand, taking a perspective that draws on emic understandings of ornaments in certain ethnographic contexts
and, on the other hand, through a rethinking of the relevance of the structural anthropological mode of analysis
championed by Lévi-Strauss.
This special issue is guest-edited by Daniella E. Bar-Yosef Mayer (Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and
Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University) and Marjolein D. Bosch (McDonald Institute for Archaeological
Research, University of Cambridge). This is article #12 of 12.
“The ecology is so important to me, and I think it plays
such a part in the myth that there are a lot of things that
should be not only seen but lived in […] so as to under-
stand them” (Lévi-Strauss in Tom Shandel’s film Behind
the Masks, 1973, cited by Wilcken 2010: 316)
“The demonstrative itinerary of the Mythologiques is
eectively that of a generalized heterogeneous trans-
versality wherein the myth of one people transforms
another’s ritual and the technics of a third, the social or-
ganization of one is the body-painting of another (a.k.a.,
how to shule between cosmology and cosmetology
without leaving politics…) […] on account of which the
transformations appear to leap distant points on the Am-
erindian continent, spurting up here and there like iso-
lated eruptions of a subterranean lava-sea” (Viveiros de
Castro 2014: 203)
INTRODUCTION
When speaking of systems of personal adornment,
more than with any other aspect of material culture,
we are after the origins of culture, development of symbolic
thinking, and very broadly dened modern human cogni-
tion. In turn, this highly emphasized dimension of beads’
PaleoAnthropology 2019: 208−239. © 2019 PaleoAnthropology Society. All rights reserved. ISSN 1545-0031
doi:10.4207/PA.2019.ART132
DUŠAN BORIĆ
The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue, New York City, NY 10027, USA;
db2128@columbia.edu; dusan.boric@gmail.com
EMANUELA CRISTIANI
DANTE Laboratory for Diet and Ancient Technology Studies, Sapienza University of Rome, Via Caserta 6, 00161 Rome, ITALY;
emanuela.cristiani@uniroma1.it
submied: 7 June 2018; accepted 30 November 2018
Ornamental Traditions in Southeastern Europe 209
CURRENT APPROACHES TO
EARLY SYSTEMS OF BODY DECORATION
Over the last couple of decades, eorts to date the origin
of modern cognition, i.e., mental structures that facilitate
self-awareness, metaphoric thinking, and creative expres-
sion, have focused repeatedly on beads as one of the ear-
liest forms of symbolic communication and highlighted
their ability to unveil cognitive, symbolic, and technologi-
cal aspects of prehistoric societies (e.g., d’Errico et al. 2003;
Kuhn and Stiner 2007; White 1992). The existence of ca.
75 ka year-old shell ornaments in late Middle Stone Age
(MSA) layers of Blombos Cave (South Africa) (d’Errico et
al. 2005, 2009; Henshilwood et al. 2004) and even earlier ap-
pearance of ornaments in northern Africa (Bouzouggar et
al. 2007) and western Eurasia (Bar-Yosef Mayer 2005; Bar-
Yosef Mayer et al. 2009; Vanhaeren et al. 2006) suggest a
signicant antiquity of body adornment. While the specic
meanings of these earliest surviving forms of human em-
bellishment remain unknown, many archaeologists agree
that the appearance and rapid adoption of body ornaments
were directly related to the dispersal of Anatomically Mod-
ern Human (AMH) cultures, their systems of values, and
social identities across Eurasia. Yet, evidence from the Ibe-
rian Peninsula also suggests the symbolic use of ornaments
and decoration by the Neanderthals (Zilhão et al. 2010).
Beads as an ornamental innovation might have been
advantageous to other systems of ornamentation (e.g., pig-
ments) as more functional to the expansion of the human
social interaction beyond familiar individuals to larger
groups of geographically dispersed but socially connected
people (Gamble 1998; Kuhn and Stiner 2007; Stiner 2014).
This advantage was due to their “performance character-
istics,” such as portability, durability, and often striking
visual impact. Such an understanding of the role of or-
naments can be termed an “information technology” ap-
proach, most clearly described by Kuhn and Stiner (2007)
and Stiner (2014). These authors underline seven dimen-
sions in which ornaments show dierent “performance
characteristics.” They refer to those physical properties of
ornaments related to human goals and their specic con-
text of use as well as those physical properties linked to the
visual impact and capacity to encode and broadcast social
information to wide audiences (cf. Schier and Skibo 1987).
The properties of ornamental beads that show benets
with regards to other systems of ornamentation (e.g., use
of pigments) and are seen as functional to the ow of social
information are as follows: (1) durability; (2) standardiza-
tion; (3) expression in quantity; (4) expression of invest-
ment dierential (i.e., the amount of human time and ef-
fort that they represent); (5) transferability; (6) cost; and, (7)
recombinability (Kuhn and Stiner 2007; Stiner 2014). While
undoubtedly useful, this is a typical approach of etic type
where material culture production is understood as, to cite
Marshal Sahlins, “constructed out of practical action and
interest, as guided by a kind of super-rationality” (Sahlins
1976: 73).
signicance in our current scholarship can easily lure us
into taking a social evolutionary perspective in apprehend-
ing beads’ role in the advance of behavioral modernity. This
has been a dominant narrative in this subeld of archaeo-
logical scholarship over the past two decades (e.g., Bou-
zouggar et al. 2007; d’Errico 1998; d’Errico et al. 2003; 2005).
Our theoretical goal in this paper, however, will not be
linked to quests for origins and social evolutionary thresh-
olds based on humans’ interest in ornaments and body
decoration. Instead, we propose broadening of the current
theoretical perspectives in the study of early systems of
body adornment by introducing elements of ethnographic
and anthropological theory. While making ethnographic
comparisons in archaeology is certainly not new, here we
will suggest that there are aspects of anthropological and
ethnographic discussions linked to body decoration that
are relatively neglected when thinking through prehistoric
ornaments and can be of some value in our archaeological
analysis. We believe that there could be alternative ways
of looking at ornaments in archaeology that could both
remind us of how beads might have been perceived and
understood in those past societies we study and help us
make an eective use of lateral, geographic and diachronic
comparisons when discerning paerns of beads’ distribu-
tions and frequencies.
To explain what we mean by this, rst we would like to
sketch with a broad brush, if perhaps not so accurately still
suciently clear, what we see are the main approaches in
the study of ornaments in the current archaeological schol-
arship. This is then followed by a reminder of how beads
work in the context of an ethnographic case study. Admit-
ting that achieving such an emic, cultural anthropological
understanding might be out of our reach when dealing with
archaeological evidence, we will shift our aention to the
merits of approaches that fall under the remits of structural
anthropology and the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss. We
will show that certain aspects of this brand of structuralism
and its mode of analysis, far from being outmoded, could
have some signicance for archaeologists in enabling com-
parisons across vast geographical spaces and through time.
This is then followed by a survey of the existing evidence
of ornamental traditions of southeastern European foragers
from the earliest appearance of beads to the very end of the
Mesolithic, including a discussion of common features and
main trends in body adornment over the Palaeolithic and
Mesolithic long-term in this regional context. Finally, we
will emerge out of this “thick description” to come back to
the issues of wider comparative signicance when identify-
ing modes of structural transformation in relation to body
ornaments. The presented evidence regarding the modali-
ties of ornamental choices and processes of substitution of
particular taxa in the search for desired bead shapes may
get us closer to a novel understanding of ornaments’ role
and signicance even if specic meanings elude us.
210 PaleoAnthropology 2019
The Occult Life of Things, Joana Miller, described her work
among the Nambikwara-Mamaindê groups of western Am-
azonia regarding the signicance of personal adornment in
the lives of these indigenous people. In her text, we learn
that body ornaments are closely linked to components of a
person and that the body is always adorned by ornaments
understood as indices of relationships. In the construction
of selves, ornaments make bodies visible. While their own-
ership denes the subject, there is much more here than a
simple post-modern mantra of enmeshed human and ma-
terial worlds. What is at stake is a specic and yet widely
held notion among the Amerindian groups, espoused in
numerous mythologies, of the primary humanity in which
human culture was in primordial times shared between
humans, animals, and things. Hence things, including
body ornaments, dene subjects and are at the same time
subjects themselves (for instance, ornaments can turn into
dangerous animals if abandoned “and must be constantly
“domesticated” lest they transform into animals” [Miller
2009: 67]).
Miller’s Mamaindê believe that visible ornaments on
the body and the invisible, interior ornaments that only
shamans can see, are both parts of the selves and are inti-
mately linked to the notion of spirit. Illness or even death,
understood as a process of transformation, in this context
can be caused by the loss of one’s ornaments. The role of
shamans, who possess the power, i.e., a capacity, is to see
through the opacity of bodies in the current state of aairs
(the Amazonian cosmogony narrates that in a pre-cosmos
an absolute transparency characterized corporeal and
spiritual dimensions of beings). In this context, as in many
other traditional contexts worldwide, children and infants
are especially aected and more vulnerable to losing their
human perspective and point of view. Similar to those who
fall ill, children are recommended to wear more strings of
beads over their bodies. Operating in an ontological uni-
verse that can be dened as animic (Descola 2013a) or per-
spectival (Viveiros de Castro 2004, 2014), the role of orna-
ments is to ax and prevent a corporeal transformation,
which can easily be aicted by the fundamental instability
of the soul.
Finally, Miller makes the point that among the Ma-
maindê the production of ornaments is directly related to
the spirits of the dead—not in a metaphorical way but by
assuming their omnipresence and constant dialogue and
hence the ornament makers, often shamans, fulll the de-
sires of the spirits of the dead through the handiwork in-
volved in their beads manufacturing. One of the nal mes-
sages of this article is that in Amazonia, dierent from gift
and commodity economies, objects do not substitute for
persons, and that rather than being understood in terms
of sociological exchanges and transactions, they operate at
the plane of ontological transactions among dierent sub-
jectivities—humans and other-than-human beings.
This example is introduced here as we believe that,
in a powerful way, it speaks of complexities that we as
archaeologists deal with, even if unknowingly, when try-
ing to disentangle prehistoric social and cultural contexts
While many studies of ornaments focused on the ori-
gins and evolution of modern cognitive abilities, a num-
ber of studies explored social dimensions of symbolic ex-
pression (e.g., White 1993, 2007). A popular approach has
been to look at ornaments as tokens of groups and possible
markers of ethnic or linguistic identities. In forager studies,
this approach has some antiquity (e.g., Newell et al. 1990
on Mesolithic ethnic boundaries) but was mobilized most
prominently by Marian Vanhaeren and Francesco d’Errico
(2006) in the denition of Early Upper Paleolithic groups in
Europe. A variant of this approach is the work by Solange
Rigaud (2011) and colleagues (Rigaud et al. 2015) in order
to make sense of certain regularities in distributions of per-
sonal ornaments over the European continental scale in the
context of the spread of novel Neolithic bead types and per-
sistence of forager systems of ornamentation.
Another approach has been to look at technological
steps of a chaîne opératoire in the production sequence of an
ornamental assemblage and in this way identify particular
traditions of learned gestures (e.g., Bonnardin 2007; White
2007). Other authors focused on diverse material culture
trajectories over the long term, in particular, archaeologi-
cal sequences in order to compare continuities and changes
in dierent material culture assemblages of the same site.
The laer approach has been taken up by Catherine Perlès
(2013; see also 2018) in her thought-provoking discussion
of whether lithics or ornaments could be taken as beer in-
dices of stability/change when discerning group identities
in the long sequence at Franchthi cave in Greece.
We arm that all of the mentioned archaeological ap-
proaches are useful and complementary with much merit.
At the same time, we also think that beyond practical rea-
sons, cognitive and behavioral modernity, identication of
ethnic territories, and functional concerns, we could use-
fully supplement our approaches to early systems of orna-
mentation with more involved emic perspectives that draw
on ethnographic evidence—not to casually reach for loose
and inadequately problematized ethnographic analogies,
but in order to tap into studies that are concerned with a
rich texture of social and cultural lives that can provide
grounded frameworks for re-thinking the context and role
of personal adornment in early prehistory. In other words,
we do not believe that the past is an entirely foreign coun-
try and while they did things dierently there, we believe
that points of connection with known and ethnographically
recorded examples can productively be made. Discussions
within the so-called “Ontological Turn” debates in anthro-
pology and increasingly among some archaeologists are
an aempt in this direction (e.g., see papers in Was 2013).
Without going into all the nuances of arguments about
relational aspects of personhood, constitution of human
and nonhuman worlds, and general aspects of a corporol-
ogy (Sahlins 2008: 23)—discussions to do with the sense of
one’s body and soul or spirit in a particular cultural con-
text—an illustrative example will suce.
ORNAMENTS IN AMAZONIA: AN EXAMPLE
In 2009, in an article published in an edited volume entitled
Ornamental Traditions in Southeastern Europe 211
too, with allusions to similarities found in European folk-
lore tales. This comparative exercise disclosed that “[f]or
Lévi-Strauss, Amerindian myth was one vast conversation
murmured from campre to campre across continents; a
to and fro of images and sensations set in logical propo-
sitions, which twisted and turned in their passage across
the Americas” (Wilcken 2010: 302). Lévi-Strauss suggested
that similarities in basic narratives observed between geo-
graphically remote groups stemmed from diusions and
borrowings of mythical narratives that must have travelled
far and wide, aesting to complex and intense long-dis-
tance nested interactions. Yet, narratives were transformed
and appropriated according to a set of “universal rules”
every time when a certain cultural, linguistic, or ecological
boundary was crossed (Lévi-Strauss 1992; cf. Gow 2014).
What Lévi-Strauss was particularly interested in un-
covering was the nature of these transformations where he
assumed universal modes and sets of operations that the
human mind performed every time when narratives were
transformed encountering an ethnic or linguistic bound-
ary. According to Lévi-Strauss (1992: 108), the modalities
governing these transformations were beyond the control
of those listeners, whose minds under the radar of con-
scious understanding inverted, sometimes symmetrically,
elements of dierent stories, or substituted certain charac-
ters and entities, depending on local ecological, social, and
cultural circumstances. Yet, in each case there was always
much aention paid to details chosen to be emphasized,
put in relations of correspondence, or shunned. The rules
of such transformations were seen as cognitive universals
limited to a number of invariants that this particular brand
of structural analysis was interested in uncovering through
a thick description and analysis of ethnographic minutiae,
combined with a keen naturalist eye interested in identify-
ing “… precisely the plants and the animals known by each
society; the dierent technical uses to which they are put;
and, if these plants and animals are edible, how they are
prepared—that is boiled, stewed, steamed, roasted, grilled,
fried, or even dried or smoked for curing …” (Lévi-Strauss
1992: 102–103). The encyclopedic knowledge of dierent
animal and plant species, or of meteorological phenomena,
turned out to be of key importance as the analysis moved
from the tropical forests of the Amazon Basin through
prairies of the Great Plains of North America to coastal es-
tuaries of British Columbia and beyond, with various ani-
mal gures (jaguar, tapir, sloth, salmon, coyote, lynx, etc.)
featuring in myths. Idiosyncrasies in the behavior of these
species were being substituted in myths depending on the
local ecology and species availability, all the while a recog-
nizable narrative core of a story plot was being maintained.
A myriad of dierent themes and elements were cov-
ered in the four volumes of the main Mythologiques series
and in three later additional volumes of petits mythologiques.
One of the recurrent themes relates to the genre of myths to
do with the origins of ornaments or body adornment: “[t]he
passage from the southern to the northern hemisphere had
yielded a transformation from a culinary to a vestimentary
code” (Wilcken 2010: 301). It is in particular in relation to
in which ornaments operate. The choice of the Amazonian
example is random, inspired by our familiarity with this
ethnographic context, but in other instances of traditional
societies ornaments would have both similar and dierent
meanings. Our wider point, however, is to make a call for
taking some of such ethnographic complexities seriously
when exploring windows of opportunity in our prehistoric
case studies with contextual analysis that can provide clues
as to similarly complexly constituted past worlds. Dier-
ently put, the example serves as a reminder of all that we
are missing when thinking about prehistoric ornaments.
At the same time, we are well aware that opportunities for
such penetrating glimpses into the past use of ornaments
will inevitably be rare, and all of the intricacies described
in the Nambikwara context would sadly remain forever be-
yond our reach.
Alongside a cultural anthropological emic approach,
there might be an alternative way to utilize productively
insights of ethnographic and anthropological theory in the
study of ornaments by archaeologists. In the next section,
we will go back to the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss and his
structural anthropological method of analysis. While this
choice might seem strange to some who by now view his
work only as a page in the history of anthropology, we be-
lieve, along with some other authors who provided a recent
re-reading of Lévi-Strauss’s thought through a post-struc-
turalist key, especially in relation to his late Mythologiques
phase (e.g., Viveiros de Castro 2009), that it harbors much
promise and relevance when probing the limits of the west-
ern epistemology and ontology (cf. Descola 2013b). More-
over, Lévi-Strauss’s project is one of the earliest approaches
in anthropology that takes into account both the legacy of
the Boasian culturalist agenda that argues for the unique-
ness of each context and explores universal aspects in the
cognitive workings of the mind (Bloch 2012: 53–74; cf.
Sperber 1996). Here is the author who refused to ignore the
problem that recurrent similarities in cultural expression
exist in unconnected places, and thus need a satisfactory
explanation that is not diusionist (e.g., Lévi-Strauss 1987).
In scalar terms, the application of the structuralist method
of analysis could be suitable to a mode of large-scale ar-
chaeological comparative analysis. Finally, we will suggest
that modes of structural transformations that Lévi-Strauss
identied could apply to both myths and ornaments, with
homologous processes at play.
ORIGINS OF ORNAMENTS AND
MYTHOLOGICAL TRANSVERSALITY
In the early 1960s, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-
Strauss started his decades long project of exploring myths
of dierent Amerindian societies by means of structural
analysis. While his starting point was in Amazonia with the
reference myth of “Bird-nester,” found among the Bororo
groups, over the years, his Mythologiques project expanded
as to encompass both South and North America, spinning
a web of relations and connections among dierent stories
and various idiosyncratic cultural expressions that reached
even beyond the Americas, especially into Siberia, but often,
212 PaleoAnthropology 2019
(Lévi-Strauss 1995: 30). The continuation of this myth re-
joins the previously mentioned myth about Lynx, weaving
together a unifying and extended mythical narrative.
In relation to Dentalium shells and their popularity
among the Pacic Northwest Coast groups, Lévi-Strauss
also provides an interesting ethnographic insight into dy-
namics characterizing inland versus coastal groups. He de-
scribes a specic mythology of the inland Chilcotin groups,
who narrated myths about the terrestrial origins of Den-
talium shells. The reason for this was the need to mystify
the origin of these precious ornaments, aributing to them
an exotic and supernatural character. The Chilcotin had
an active role in the re-distribution of these objects among
groups found further inland, such as the Interior Salish,
who called the Chilcotin “Dentalia people,” believing that
shells originated in their territory. While in reality, the Chil-
cotin acquired Dentalium shells from complex coastal for-
ager groups, such as Kwakiutl, Bella Coola, and Tsimshian,
who were uninterested in the origin of Dentalium shells and
focused their mythical narratives on other features (Lévi-
Strauss 1987: 259–261, 1992: 109). This instance speaks of
possibly universal dynamics that might have characterized
relationships between certain coastal and inland foragers
with the existence of various intermediaries involved in
transfers of ornaments and their perceived importance.
Finally, let us mention a group of myths from the same
region in which ornaments are compared to testicles. In
these myths, apart from a character of a smelly old man
covered with sores, Moon or Sun are found interchange-
ably in the role of a cannibalistic monster, sometimes char-
acterized by enormous testicles or acting as a testicle eater
(Lévi-Strauss 1995: 135–145). An episode describes Coyote
stealing adornment from Moon but being unable to escape.
In some versions of this myth, an opposition is established
between heart as an internal round organ and testicles as ex-
ternal round organs. In this context, Lévi-Strauss (1995: 141)
also emphasizes a key contrast being drawn in Amerindian
thought between the hard and soft parts of the body, the
laer associated with nose, ears, and sexual organs, all of
which require durable ornaments to protect them. Based on
a myth coming from the Coast Salish in which Coyote while
cleaning salmon found two white and round milts that
were set aside and not eaten, and which were later trans-
formed into two young women wearing prey blankets, a
further correspondence was established between milts and
testicles as round organs both linked to ornaments. In yet
another story coming from the Klikitat, a female character
got lost among a people of cannibals who wore testicles as
earrings and forced her to do the same. “Helpful young la-
dies freed her and got rid of her hideous adornments. In-
stead, they put their own ornaments, of deer hunters and
trout shers, in her ears” (Lévi-Strauss 1995: 142). In the
context of this set of mythical narratives, a relationship be-
tween food and ornaments is probed with a series of trans-
formations. We note that the round, or gland-like shape of
ornaments being described as well as the dynamic of inter-
nal vs. external in relation to ornaments might have had
more universal connotations beyond this particular region-
the myths of the Pacic Northwest Coast that this group of
myths was discussed in Lévi-Strauss’s later work entitled
The Story of Lynx (1995), even though discussions that men-
tion elements relating to the role of ornaments in myths are
also found in Structural Anthropology II (Lévi-Strauss 1987)
and in A View From Afar (Lévi-Strauss 1992). The origin of,
i.e., the acquisition of, Dentalium (tusk shell) ornaments in
particular was a recurrent theme among dierent groups of
this region and we shall spend a lile time disclosing some
interesting ethnographic and mythological detail.
In a series of myths along the Pacic Northwest Coast
among people belonging to the Salish linguistic family,
there are many variants “… of a complex of myths orga-
nized around the tale of a poor, sick, and despised old man,
usually called Lynx. By a trick, he makes the daughter of
the village chief pregnant. People wonder at this unex-
plainable pregnancy. A child is born, who points out Lynx
as its father; the indignant villagers abandon the couple
without re or food. By himself, or with his wife’s help,
Lynx recovers his true nature, that of a beautiful young
man and expert hunter” (Lévi-Strauss 1987: 257, 1995). The
myth continues further, but what concerns us here are op-
positions that in various versions of this myth were created
between the skin of an old and smelly man covered with
wounds and sores who is transformed into a young man
with healthy skin covered with shell ornaments. In various
versions of this complex of myths, a dichotomy is estab-
lished between external and internal, wounds and jewels,
and Lévi-Strauss suggests that there are important similari-
ties in the conceptualization of “cultural” ornaments and
“natural” skin coverings between South and North Ameri-
can groups (Lévi-Strauss 1995: 98, 101): “cooked, clothed
preoccupations with the body’s innards had transferred to
its outer decorations” (Wilcken 2010: 301). Here the dichot-
omy of inside versus outside in relation to ornaments and
clothing seems to have been emphasized and we will later
return to this point when discussing a particular archaeo-
logical example.
A continuation of this complex of myths speaks of
Lynx’s son kidnapped by Owl, who adorned the boy with
a Dentalium necklace. The boy’s parents tried to convince
him to return to their village but, at rst, he refused. Fi-
nally, the parents succeeded to convince the boy to come
back with them, and while Owl was away, they burnt his
hut. Owl chased them but when they reached a footbridge
the hero scared Owl away from the other shore by waving
ngers armed with goat’s horns. The hero came back to the
village, fully adorned with Dentalium shells, and distribut-
ed them to everyone. This is the origin of ornaments from
Dentalium among the Indians (Lévi-Strauss 1987: 260, 1995:
95–96). In another myth named “The Dentalia Thieves,” the
protagonists are a man, a great hunter, and his two sisters.
While bathing in a stream, the man rubbed his body with
pine boughs and needles that fell into the water and were
transformed into Dentalium shells. The man brought them
back to his sisters. He asked the sisters not to visit this spot,
but they disobeyed and collected a number of shells from
the water after which their brother decided to leave them
Ornamental Traditions in Southeastern Europe 213
some of the identied structural regularities between in-
side and outside regarding the choice of organs chosen as
ornaments and their subsequent display on the surface of
the body as well as the geometry of certain recurrent types,
such as gland-like shapes, share recurrent similarities be-
tween remote and unrelated regions. At the same time, the
cultural uniqueness of each particular case and their his-
torical circumstances are equally undeniable.
ORNAMENTAL TRADITIONS
IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
The following survey of the evidence for ornaments in
Paleolithic and Mesolithic layers of various sites in south-
eastern Europe must inevitably remain a work in progress
due to sometimes limited presentation of various sites and
collections, even though signicant progress in the publica-
tion of early prehistoric ornaments from this wider region
has been made in recent years. Moreover, we have made
every eort to identify the chronological placement of the
discussed nds as accurate as possible, but this will not be
the place for ne chronological tunings about ornaments’
exact stratigraphic position. Instead, rather broad chrono-
logical time blocks are used as units of analysis (Table 1).
The paern of distribution of Paleolithic and Mesolithic
sites with ornaments across southeastern Europe indicates
a very uneven coverage. This situation is directly linked
to the sporadic and sparse record of Late Pleistocene and
Early Holocene/pre-Neolithic selement.
Several zones can be identied with larger concentra-
tions of Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites, and consequently
larger numbers of ornaments. These areas also oer a dia-
chronic perspective in examining changes in ornaments’
consumption tastes. Four major zones (Figure 1) are identi-
ed: (1) the Danube Basin catchment zone with northern
Bulgaria and the Romanian Carpathian Mountains; here,
there are a number of sites with signicant Middle to Up-
per Paleolithic presence, along with several other inland
sites, such as Šalitrena or Velika Pećina caves; (2) the Dan-
ube Gorges area, which is separated for its specic char-
acter and ecology, although obviously belonging to the
Danube Basin Catchment zone; here, one nds the Epipa-
leolithic sites of Cuina Turcului and Climente II, as well as
several Early to Late Mesolithic sites; (3) Greece with the
sites of Franchthi and Klissoura 1 caves in the Argolid, both
of which exhibit deep Paleolithic and Mesolithic stratig-
raphies, the sites of Kastritsa, Klithi, and other Upper Pa-
leolithic sequences in the Epirus region of western Greece,
and the Cave of the Cyclopes on the island of Gioura in
the northern Sporades; and, (4) the Eastern Adriatic lio-
ral zone and its wider hinterland of the Dinaric Alps, with
relatively numerous Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites found
in present-day Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Mon-
tenegro. There are only few other sites with ornaments that
are found outside and in between these four broadly de-
ned regional zones.
One of the possibly earliest examples of personal
adornment, dating to ca. 130 ky BP comes, from the cave
site of Krapina in Croatia, where cutmarked white-tailed
al context, with some of the materials used for ornaments
been selected based on a gland-shaped geometry of chosen
elements found in dierent species (see below).
But a reader may ask, what are we trying to achieve
by evoking mythical narratives on the origin of orna-
ments in the Pacic Northwest Coast thousands of miles
away from our discussion of Paleolithic and Mesolithic
ornaments in southeastern Europe? The purpose of this
evocation is three-fold. First, methodologically and epis-
temologically, we hypothesize that the argued universal
cognitive processes of structural transformation and sub-
stitution when mythical narratives pass from one group to
another while maintaining the narrative coherence of the
same plot could be homologous to the way certain body
ornaments in the deep prehistory of Eurasia maintained
constancy over continental scales regarding desired shapes
as well as in the selection of certain species and their body
parts. Such species choices were occasionally substituted
when crossing social, cultural, ecological, and chronologi-
cal boundaries depending on local availability and chang-
ing modes of interactions with nonhuman entities, as often
happened with mythical narratives too. Second, this piece
of ethnography could potentially help us in disclosing uni-
versal aspects of relations and dynamics between coastal
and inland groups regarding access to certain materials,
i.e., animal species, used as ornaments. And, third, while
specic regional meanings assigned to certain ornamental
types in the deep archaeological past will for the most part
remain out of our reach, one cannot rule out cross-cultur-
ally common meanings held about certain species used for
ornaments between ethnographic and archaeological case
studies. The laer point will inevitably remain dicult
to justify methodologically, but we argue that the consis-
tent preference for shells and other parts of certain species
used for ornaments world-wide and over the long term can
hardly be ignored. While old-fashioned diusionist argu-
ments about deeply rooted connections between transmit-
ted cultural traditions, including ornamental preferences,
of Paleolithic ancient Eurasian populations and those that
crossed the Bering Strait into the Americas should not en-
tirely be ruled out, these are very dicult to demonstrate
at continental and temporal scales with which we are con-
fronted. Hence, here we prefer to follow the structural
anthropological method of analysis and examine possible
regularities by which characteristics of certain species used
as ornaments might have been keenly observed and further
transmied, transformed, or substituted, in a similar way
to which elements in mythical narratives morphed as they
crossed social and cultural boundaries. An explanation for
recurrent elements in cultural forms, including the choice
of ornamental materials, would be to suggest that in the
functioning of the mind there are universal predispositions
for certain contents (Sperber 1996; cf. Bloch 2012).
In the following, we turn to an analysis of ornamental
choices and diachronic and spatial paerning in frequen-
cies of certain types of ornaments in a regional context
typical of cultural and ecological dynamics characterizing
Eurasian prehistoric foragers. We will aempt to show that
214 PaleoAnthropology 2019
TABLE 1. ORNAMENTAL MATERIALS (perforated, unperforated, and fragments) AND THEIR FREQUENCIES
IN PALEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC SITES IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE.*
Vertebrate teeth & bone Marine gastropods, scaphopods & bivalves
Freshwater gastropods & fish
Period/Site (Region)
Haliaëtus albicilla talon
Bird tubular bone
Vulpes vulpes canine
Bone pendant / tile
Cervus elaphus canine
Meles meles canine
Lynx lynx canine
Large cervid incisor
Bovid incisor
Capra ibex incisor
Castor fiber incisor
Sus sp. incisor
Canis lupus incisor
Ursus spelaeus tooth
Ursus spelaeus phalanx
Bone bead
Tritia neritea
Tritia pellucida
Tritia sp.
Tritia gibbosula
Columbella rustica
Dentalium sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Arca noae
Cardium rusticum
Lamellaria sp.
Pecten maximus
Acanthocardia tuberculata
Haliotis lamellose
Gibbula adansoni
Gibbula albida
Gibbula richardi
Gibbula cf. umbilicus
Gibbula sp.
Clanculus corallinus
Monodonta articulata
Monodonta mutabilis
Monodonta turbinata
Homalopoma sanguineus
Cerithium sp.
Naticarius sp.
Phalium sp.
Pisania maculosa
Cancellaria cancellata
Hinia reticulata
Conus mediteranneus
Corymbina rhodiensis
Melanopsis gorceixi
Chlamys varia
Lithoglyphus naticoides
Lithoglyphus apertus
Zebrina detrita
Theodoxus sp.
Theodoxus danubialis
Rutilus sp. pharyngeal
tooth
Perforated stone
Source
Middle Paleolithic
Krapina (DBC)
8
Radovčić et al.
2015
Initial Upper
Paleolithic
Klissoura 1 (G)
7
3
1
3
11
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
Stiner 2010
Kozarnika (DBC)
3
Guadelli 2011
Bacho Kiro (DBC)
4
3
Guadelli 2011
Kozarnika (DBC)
3
2+
+
8
Ditto
Bordul Mare (DBC)
1
Mărgărit 2008
Franchthi (G)
111
6
112
16
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
478
43
6
135
14
5
18
16
5
131
61
22
3
16
73
7
11
6
115
3
4
3
7
3
97
5
15
12
3
109
Stiner 2010
Šalitrena (DBC)
1
Marín-Arroyo &
Mihailović 2017
Kozarnika (DBC)
2
4
Guadelli 2011
Temnata Dupka (DBC)
2
1
ditto
Šandalja II (EA)
3
1
Cvitkušić 2017
Cioarei (DBC)
1
1
1
2
Mărgărit 2008
Gura Cheii (DBC)
1
1
Ditto
Mitoc Malul Galben
(DBC)
1
1
1
Ditto
Poiana Cireşului
(DBC)
1
2
1
1
12
2
Ditto
Țibrinu (DBC)
1
1
Ditto
Franchthi (G)
2
200
14
272
1
1
16
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
39
1
7
12
1
1
Stiner 2010
Ornamental Traditions in Southeastern Europe 215
TABLE 1. ORNAMENTAL MATERIALS (perforated, unperforated, and fragments) AND THEIR FREQUENCIES
IN PALEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC SITES IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE (continued).*
Marine
gastropods,
scaphopods
&
bivalves
Freshwater & land gastropods
& semi-anadromous fish
Period/Site (Region)
Conus mediteranneus
Corymbina rhodiensis
Melanopsis gorceixi
Chlamys varia
Lithoglyphus naticoides
Lithoglyphus apertus
Zebrina detrita
Theodoxus sp.
Theodoxus danubialis
Rutilus sp. pharyngeal
tooth
Perforated stone
Source
Middle Paleolithic
Krapina (DBC)
Radovčić et al. 2015
Initial Upper
Paleolithic
Klissoura 1 (G)
1
1
Stiner 2010
Kozarnika (DBC)
Guadelli 2011
Bacho Kiro (DBC)
Guadelli 2011
Kozarnika (DBC)
8
Ditto
Bordul Mare (DBC)
Mărgărit 2008
Franchthi (G)
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
5
15
12
3
109
Stiner 2010
Šalitrena (DBC)
Marín-Arroyo & Mihailović 2017
Kozarnika (DBC)
Guadelli 2011
Temnata Dupka (DBC)
Ditto
Šandalja II (EA)
Cvitkušić 2017
Cioarei (DBC)
2
Mărgărit 2008
Gura Cheii (DBC)
Ditto
Mitoc Malul Galben
(DBC)
1
Ditto
Poiana Cireşului
(DBC)
12
2
Ditto
Țibrinu (DBC)
Ditto
Franchthi (G)
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
Stiner 2010
216 PaleoAnthropology 2019
TABLE 1. ORNAMENTAL MATERIALS (perforated, unperforated, and fragments) AND THEIR FREQUENCIES
IN PALEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC SITES IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE (continued).*
Vertebrate teeth & bone Marine gastropods, scaphopods & bivalves
Freshwater gastropods & fish
Period/Site (Region)
Haliaëtus albicilla talon
Bird tubular bone
Vulpes vulpes canine
Bone pendant / tile
Cervus elaphus canine
Meles meles canine
Lynx lynx canine
Large cervid incisor
Bovid incisor
Capra ibex incisor
Castor fiber incisor
Sus sp. incisor
Canis lupus incisor
Ursus spelaeus tooth
Ursus spelaeus phalanx
Bone bead
Tritia neritea
Tritia pellucida
Tritia sp.
Tritia gibbosula
Columbella rustica
Dentalium sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Arca noae
Cardium rusticum
Lamellaria sp.
Pecten maximus
Acanthocardia tuberculata
Haliotis lamellose
Gibbula adansoni
Gibbula albida
Gibbula richardi
Gibbula cf. umbilicus
Gibbula sp.
Clanculus corallinus
Monodonta articulata
Monodonta mutabilis
Monodonta turbinata
Homalopoma sanguineus
Cerithium sp.
Naticarius sp.
Phalium sp.
Pisania maculosa
Cancellaria cancellata
Hinia reticulata
Conus mediteranneus
Corymbina rhodiensis
Melanopsis gorceixi
Chlamys varia
Lithoglyphus naticoides
Lithoglyphus apertus
Zebrina detrita
Theodoxus sp.
Theodoxus danubialis
Rutilus sp. pharyngeal
tooth
Perforated stone
Source
Poiana Cireşului
(DBC)
1
2
1
1
12
2
Ditto
Țibrinu (DBC)
1
1
Ditto
Franchthi (G)
2
200
14
272
1
1
16
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
39
1
7
12
1
1
Stiner 2010
Kastritsa Strata 3, 5, 7
(E)
9
20
6
2
Kotjabopoulou &
Adam 2004
Velika Pećina (DBC)
1
Dimitrijević et al.
2018
Late Upper Paleolithic
Temnata Dupka (DBC)
1
Guadelli 2011
Franchthi (G)
1
87
0
62
64
14
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
4
4
1
Stiner 2010
Klithi (E)
8
119
7
41
1
20
Kotjabopoulou &
Adam 2004
Kastritsa Stratum 1
(E)
9
2
10
Ditto
Boila (E)
2
48
5
3
1
Ditto
Climente II (DG)
1
3
1
Mărgărit et al. 2017
Cuina Turcului (DG)
11
1
1
1
3
1
37
3
1
8
Ditto
Romualdova (EA)
1
Cvitkušić 2017
Šandalja II (EA)
2
4
1
1
1
Vlakno (EA)
10
9
1
3
Ditto
Vela Spila (EA)
7
2
7
2
5
Ditto
Badanj (EA)
30
2
1
269
22
38
371
53
8
This paper
Vešanska (EA)
1
1
Cvitkušić 2017
Pupićina (EA)
1
1
Ditto
Zala (EA)
14
Ditto
Ljubićeva (EA)
1
Ditto
Ornamental Traditions in Southeastern Europe 217
TABLE 1. ORNAMENTAL MATERIALS (perforated, unperforated, and fragments) AND THEIR FREQUENCIES
IN PALEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC SITES IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE (continued).*
Marine
gastropods,
scaphopods
&
bivalves
Freshwater & land gastropods
& semi-anadromous fish
Period/Site (Region)
Conus mediteranneus
Corymbina rhodiensis
Melanopsis gorceixi
Chlamys varia
Lithoglyphus naticoides
Lithoglyphus apertus
Zebrina detrita
Theodoxus sp.
Theodoxus danubialis
Rutilus sp. pharyngeal
tooth
Perforated stone
Source
Upper Paleolithic
Gravettian-like
Poiana Cireşului
(DBC)
12
2
Ditto
Țibrinu (DBC)
Ditto
Franchthi (G)
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
Stiner 2010
Kastritsa Strata 3, 5, 7
(E)
2
Kotjabopoulou & Adam 2004
Velika Pećina (DBC)
Dimitrijević et al. 2018
Late Upper Paleolithic
Temnata Dupka (DBC)
Guadelli 2011
Franchthi (G)
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
Stiner 2010
Klithi (E)
20
Kotjabopoulou & Adam 2004
Kastritsa Stratum 1
(E)
Ditto
Boila (E)
3
1
Ditto
Climente II (DG)
Mărgărit et al. 2017
Cuina Turcului (DG)
37
3
1
8
Ditto
Romualdova (EA)
Cvitkušić 2017
Šandalja II (EA)
Vlakno (EA)
Ditto
Vela Spila (EA)
Ditto
Badanj (EA)
8
This paper
Vešanska (EA)
Cvitkušić 2017
Pupićina (EA)
Ditto
Zala (EA)
Ditto
Ljubićeva (EA)
Ditto
Kopačina (EA)
Ditto
218 PaleoAnthropology 2019
TABLE 1. ORNAMENTAL MATERIALS (perforated, unperforated, and fragments) AND THEIR FREQUENCIES
IN PALEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC SITES IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE (continued).*
Vertebrate teeth & bone Marine gastropods, scaphopods & bivalves
Freshwater gastropods & fish
Period/Site (Region)
Haliaëtus albicilla talon
Bird tubular bone
Vulpes vulpes canine
Bone pendant / tile
Cervus elaphus canine
Meles meles canine
Lynx lynx canine
Large cervid incisor
Bovid incisor
Capra ibex incisor
Castor fiber incisor
Sus sp. incisor
Canis lupus incisor
Ursus spelaeus tooth
Ursus spelaeus phalanx
Bone bead
Tritia neritea
Tritia pellucida
Tritia sp.
Tritia gibbosula
Columbella rustica
Dentalium sp.
Glycymeris sp.
Arca noae
Cardium rusticum
Lamellaria sp.
Pecten maximus
Acanthocardia tuberculata
Haliotis lamellose
Gibbula adansoni
Gibbula albida
Gibbula richardi
Gibbula cf. umbilicus
Gibbula sp.
Clanculus corallinus
Monodonta articulata
Monodonta mutabilis
Monodonta turbinata
Homalopoma sanguineus
Cerithium sp.
Naticarius sp.
Phalium sp.
Pisania maculosa
Cancellaria cancellata
Hinia reticulata
Conus mediteranneus
Corymbina rhodiensis
Melanopsis gorceixi
Chlamys varia
Lithoglyphus naticoides
Lithoglyphus apertus
Zebrina detrita
Theodoxus sp.
Theodoxus danubialis
Rutilus sp. pharyngeal
tooth
Perforated stone
Source
Late Upper Paleolithic
Badanj (EA)
30
2
1
269
22
38
371
53
8
This paper
Vešanska (EA)
1
1
Cvitkušić 2017
Pupićina (EA)
1
1
Ditto
Zala (EA)
14
Ditto
Ljubićeva (EA)
1
Ditto
Kopačina (EA)
+
Ditto
Mališina Stijena Layer 2
(EA)
2
Bogićević&
Dimitrijević 2004
Crvena Stijena (EA)
3
This paper
Early Mesolithic
Franchthi (G)
7523
148
401
10
Perlès 2018
Klissoura 1 (G)
1
1
1
2
1
Stiner 2010
Cyclops (G)
3
Sampson 2008
Grava (G)
1
Kotjabopoulou &
Adam 2004
Theopetra (G)
2
Ditto
Vela (EA)
1
Cvitkušić 2017
Vela Spila (EA)
338
Ditto
Vlakno (EA)
4
80
2
352
2
1
2
1
3
Ditto
Pupićina (EA)
6
1
1
94
1
8
1
Ditto
Lim 001 (EA)
20
1
1
3
2
Ditto
Abri Šebrn (EA)
14
Ditto
Nugljanska (EA)
1
5?
1?
Ditto
Zala (EA)
1
13
34
Ditto
Icoana (DG)
1
Mărgărit et al. 2017
Late Mesolithic
Franchthi (G)
2611
165
17
1?
Perlès 2018
Vrbička (EA)
2
1
This paper
Vruća (EA)
1
This paper
Crvena Stijena (EA)
10
This paper
Ornamental Traditions in Southeastern Europe 219
TABLE 1. ORNAMENTAL MATERIALS (perforated, unperforated, and fragments) AND THEIR FREQUENCIES
IN PALEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC SITES IN SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE (continued).*
Marine
gastropods,
scaphopods
&
bivalves
Freshwater & land gastropods
& semi-anadromous fish
Period/Site (Region)
Conus mediteranneus
Corymbina rhodiensis
Melanopsis gorceixi
Chlamys varia
Lithoglyphus naticoides
Lithoglyphus apertus
Zebrina detrita
Theodoxus sp.
Theodoxus danubialis
Rutilus sp. pharyngeal
tooth
Perforated stone
Source
Late Upper Paleolithic
Badanj (EA)
8
This paper
Vešanska (EA)
Cvitkušić 2017
Pupićina (EA)
Ditto
Zala (EA)
Ditto
Ljubićeva (EA)
Ditto
Kopačina (EA)
Ditto
Mališina Stijena Layer 2
(EA)