The researchers are commendably thoughtful about what it means (without going overboard):
The necklace, nametag, earrings or uniform you chose to put on this morning might say more than you realize about your social status, job or some other aspect of your identity.
Anthropologists say humans have been doing this — finding ways to communicate about themselves without the fuss of conversation — for millennia.
But shell beads recovered from a cave in western Morocco, determined to be between 142,000 and 150,000 years old, suggest that this behavior may go back much farther than previously thought. The finding, detailed Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, was made by a team of archaeologists that includes Steven L. Kuhn, a professor of anthropology in the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
The beads, Kuhn and his colleagues say, are the earliest known evidence of a widespread form of nonverbal human communication, and they shed new light on how humans’ cognitive abilities and social interactions evolved.
“They were probably part of the way people expressed their identity with their clothing,” Kuhn said. “They’re the tip of the iceberg for that kind of human trait. They show that it was present even hundreds of thousands of years ago, and that humans were interested in communicating to bigger groups of people than their immediate friends and family.”University of Arizona, “Those earrings are so last year – but the reason you’re wearing them is ancient” at ScienceDaily (September 22, 2021)
The paper is open access.
It’s fair to say that all clothing is a form of communication. True, we need clothing for warmth and protection but few people would wear tea cozies or aluminum siding, even if they theoretically work. Even back when most clothing was animal products, the type of skin or leather and any adornments thereon could probably tell us a lot.
And beads? They serve no purpose except communication.
So that means we can trace abstract thought back that far into human history.