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Initial impulses for self adornment

Forget about the marketplace, and fashion.

What happens, what should happen, and what did happen in primitive
history, when men and women adorned themselves with objects? What
were initial impulses for self adornment? What were the reasons,
fascinations and the physical resonances of decoration with bone,
stone, teeth, shells, gems and metals?

Who's thought about this?
Who's written about it?
Who cares about it today?
Does it relate to what you do?

Sydney Cash

Oppi Untracht wrote about this in Jewelry Concepts and Technology. I
am looking forward to hear about other authors.

Lee Einer
Dos Manos Jewelry

Sydney, Self-adornment symbolizes wealth and leisure. The manufacture
of ornamentation diverts time or money that could be spent obtaining
essentials such as food and sleep. If you have jewelry, you can
afford to polish bear teeth, drill holes in them, etc.


Dear Sydney, I love your post! Great brain starter here at dawn in
the Sonoran Desert where it’s spring and extreme allergy season. So
with my kleenex in hand, a few thoughts. . .

Adornment for all animals is and always will be about . . . that
three-letter-word ( s e x ), or, rather, about attracting a mate or
potential mate. It’s tempting to say it’s a human thing but of
course it’s not. Fabulous feathers, amazing fur ruffs, incredible
colors. And animals besides humans make adornment - there’s a crab
that scours the seabed for beautiful bits of detritus and plants and
carefully creates its own special adornment (called, of course, the
Decorator Crab). How far off from that little crab are we when we
pick that special pearl necklace and sexy drop earrings, or guys,
the Rolex or diamond cufflinks?

And then with humans adornment has also and is also about spiritual
beliefs (let’s not restart the mean threads about crystals; while I
don’t adhere to that belief, I do come from a Catholic family so I
know all about objects that invoke spirtuality - rosaries
especially, which in my opionion is the same spirit, if you will, of
a crystal necklace). We like to wear things that remind us of
something larger than ourselves, or of a special ancestor or friend
or place. I just finished a piece made from Biggs jasper (from
Galarneau’s – Gerry, I have to send a pic!) that so reminded me of
Fangorn Forest (yes, I’m a Tolkein nerd) that I made a tableau of
Fangorn…now I don’t want to sell it!

I must add I hate it when anthropologists seem to just always assign
all unearthed gems, necklaces, brooches, rings as somehow spiritual
or religious. Hey, why can’t it sometimes be just because it’s
pretty!? When those early Vikings when raiding, grabbing up
beautiful gold and amber…they weren’t thinking of Odin, they were
thinking of that lovely lady back home who was going to be upset
about him being gone so long and more upset if she didn’t get
something beautiful to make up for it! Sexist? No - realistic! I got
a Namibian tourmaline and a big Tanzanite from two trips to Africa
(on which I could not go) made by my darling hubby. :wink: I’m hoping
he’ll go to South Africa soon . . .I’m missing a big certain stone
that’s common there.

Finally, one of the messages I try to brand on my website and
giveaway materials is “enjoy life and adorn yourself!” I meet too
many women who say, “Oh I love that piece but I wouldn’t know where
to wear it.” I say wear jewelry every day – it makes us feel
special, attracts compliments and attention (which makes us feel
special), and it’s also just plain fun to put together outfits and
jewelry. I encourage women to wear their favorite pieces with little
black dresses and Jimmy Choo shoes as well as with Levi’s and cowboy
boots (can you tell I love shoes too? There’s another new
discussion: has anyone seen the amazing adornments going into
women’s shoes right now? Blahniks, Choos, Versace? ooooh la la –
jewelry for the feet).

Ok, back to work.


I’ve often considered this…dunno where you can find academic
studies ,probably google social archaeology or somesuch,here’s my 10
centimos anyway… I think a lot of it came about during the
hunter-gatherer phase of our social evolution…if our ancient
ancestors are anything like contemporary hunter-gatherers, they had a
lot of free time after their food/shelter needs had been
fulfilled.Coincidentally they’d also have a lot of
bones,teeth,sinew,skins,fruit pits,seeds etc lying around.The
foragers among them would doubtless also have some pretty polished
and rounded stones to hand that they’d found while poking about for
food,on river banks and seashores.Given that one always likes to
differentiate oneself from the crowd to attract or hold the interest
of a mate, why not adorn ones body with some of these pretty
objects?..So free time plus raw materials equals jewellery. There
are ritual and social status sides to it too, as hunters tend to
be pretty superstitious, so wearing a tooth or a claw around your
neck not only shows you’re a successful hunter and therefore an
important sort of chap, it also connects you with that animal , and
may bring the hunter luck in future hunts. So much for necklaces
pendants and amulets. Rings are a different and later idea
symbolising ownership (wives,slaves) or social status ( seal
rings,intaglios, symbols of office)…as for earrings… i
dunno…an early way for women to draw attention to their hair
and eyes, which still proves highly successful today

In his Orchid post, Sydney Cash poses deep questions about the
origin of self-adornment in humans. While there are those in
academic authority that make speculations based on current cultural
belief, these statements are nothing more than educated conjectures
about the distant past. The remains hidden with the
passage of eons of time. Or does it?

Other, more exotic sources may provide that sheds some
light on this subject. Shown below is that has been
’channeled’ over a period of some twenty years, and is part of the
book ‘The Atlantean Influence in Contemporary Society.’ In reading
this brief extract, let your heart, rather than your mind, be the

For greater understanding of the text, let us make the following

Early humans were simply intelligent animals. Unlike the other
animals however, humans developed the capacity to sustain
individuated spirit (substitute ‘soul’ here if you like.) As a
consequence, ‘beings of light’ (souls) began to inhabit humans,
creating what the people of today aRe: spirited humans. In the
prehistoric times referred to below there were two types of humans,
spirited and unspirited. The text follows.

Q. How did art evolve in prehistoric society?

A. In those early days beauty was a thought process, and beauty was
expressed in many different ways. First in just the beauty of the
light within, and when this was found and seen and understood,
spirited humans dwelled on this inner beauty in their mind’s eye. In
dealing with physical earth, they found themselves admiring and
gaining interest in things as simple as smooth pebbles, crystals,
and light reflected in crystalline structures such as snow and ice.
These beautiful things they dwelled upon, and made images in the
form of expressions of gathered shells, crystals, teeth, anything
they could find that expressed this shiny and golden quality of
light, for light was the way in which they expressed themselves.
Light reflected on water was seen as something worshipful because
they could see the light within each other and interpreted that as
beauty. So the first art forms were nothing more than reflected
sunlight and moonlight upon surfaces. The sunlight gleaming off a
fr! esh picked up pebble from a streambed could be as highly valued
an item to the collector as anything in the world.

Crystals were a form of exchange of pure love, for instance to
enhance ones ability to gain entrance into another’s realm, as in
friendship or love, or expressions of worthiness. The exchanging of
beautiful reflected surfaces such as crystals, or shiny pebbles of
pyrites, or anything that had a cubical structure to it was highly
refined as a meaningful exchange of gift.

They also laid them on for healing, for the body was physical and in
an ill space with a harsh environment. So the feelings of using
these as healing instruments was very much so, for they saw with
their third eye the energy output of these materials of crystalline
forms. Every magic man had his bag of crystals and perfect rocks for
the processes of laying on of stones, for they could see the natural
forces that were emanated, and could see the pulse waves that
triggered healing within the physical body. They did not understand
it, but they could see it. In seeing it, they used it and knowledge
was gained. This was an evolutionary process in human form, for
spirit had no concept of these physical aspects. Since they were
more light spirits to begin with than physical form, they used these
processes to illuminate their world of healing magic, and it also
gave them power over their lower cousins from whom they had begun to
separate by the ninth and tenth generations. The separ! ation was a
culmination of pilgrimages away from the land of the animal.

One of their major differences was the adornment of their bodies,
the attachment of shells and stones and acorns were the first
indication of a higher developed skill. They were not encompassing
anything of an intellectual nature, for the first spirited beings
were quite satisfied to be just physical animal. But their highly
evolved spirit was already beauty orientated or esthetically
orientated, and therefore adornment was the first accumulated thing
of a different nature. It set them apart dramatically for all of a
sudden they wore strings of adornment, shells, stones etc., and
their lesser parents or siblings saw them as being different and
imitated them.

You might say that art was the first or second human spiritual
attribute. We will determine now that the difference between what we
will call human and animal is because the human possessed spirit,
the animal possessed physical prowess. And the two were different
from the beginning, because these spirited humans were born with the
third eye. All of which still is in the world today within each
being, but not opened.

Randolph Post

Wow, we are blowing some smoke on this one. Okay when did somebody
first think something was pretty? What was the early man "feelings"
about something pretty? Did they pick up that pretty polished and
rounded stone and say “Ah man, ain’t it cool, look at the color of
this, isn’t it pretty? Now darn if only I knew how to tie a knot and
make a leather strap I could wear this around my neck.” grin

Warren Townsend

We humans can concoct countless ways to rationalize our behaviour
and, those whose endeavours lie along lines of making money using
belief systems can fabricate infinitely variable rationales.

I prefer to reduce things to essentials. When you observe human
nature in its overt manifestations it is always immediately apparent
that a fundamental human trait is that of attracting attention. The
automobile industry is deeply grounded in this aspect of marketing.
Cars are designed to appeal to various segments of the public and,
in almost every case, it is a matter of gaining attention for
certain human needs. Big fancy cars are designed to proclaim ones’
financial status, powerful fast cars are designed to display
machismo and gaudily painted expensive convertibles are often the
mid-life crisis vehicles for the aging male.

Personal adornment is probably firmly rooted in attempting to stand
out in a crowd. In modern urban society anonymity is a constant
threat to personal identity therefore the attempt to seem physically

I wonder if the Australian Bower bird has developed the “third eye”

Ron Mills at Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca.

Let’s not forget that personal adornment and fashion make a
statement about the wearer. It can proclaim wealth, fertility,
honor, and status. What an individual can wear has been mandated by
various governments through history (pointed shoes anyone?) and
religions. Function such as belt buckles although serving to hold a
belt together or the pants up, also may say that you like or or a
rodeo rider, beer drinker, racecar driver, or just an average joe
with a nondescript but functional buckle. Note: I’m not trying to
put down anyone wearing a big buckle.

Philip Morton has a good chapter on the function of jewelry and
includes "utilitarian, status, symbolic, magical and jewelry as
expression in his book “Contemporary Jewelry” which I am sure is
long out of print.

Marilyn Smith

    Self-adornment symbolizes wealth and leisure. The manufacture
of ornamentation diverts time or money that could be spent
obtaining essentials such as food and sleep. If you have jewelry,
you can afford to polish bear teeth, drill holes in them, etc. 

I would respectfully beg to disagree with this statement. Look at
photos of “native” tribes anywhere in the world. I don’t recall any
that DON’T use some form of self-adornment, and I certainly would
not assign “wealth and leisure” to these tribes! They use
everything from paints made from plants and earth to piercings to
tattoos to jewelry formed from a range of things to adorn both their
bodies and their clothes, and their religious ceremonies. Grab any
National Geographic that features such a tribe and you will see what
I mean. Look at any book of historical photos - they are there. Go
to any museum carrying a decent collection of items from ancient
cultures, and you will find either the items, or the images the
people created of themselves that show this. I don’t know that
anything of this sort survives from the very early history of man,
but certainly for the last several thousand years peoples from
around the world have done, and continue to do, this.

I quickly googled ancient peoples+adornment, and one of the first
links is which quotes
Michael Weinstein in The World of Jewel Stones (Sheridan House 1958)
as saying “personal adornment was considered more important to
primitive man than any kind of garment.” He believes that jewelry
was “worn long before clothes.”

This particular site says jewelry has existed for over 30,000 years!

I don’t suppose we have any anthropologists on the list?

Beth in SC who grew up with an addiction to National Geographic!


We don’t think you’re too far off the mark, this quote is from " A
Jewlery History", a research paper done about 25 years ago…

  "Even as far in the past as primitive man, jewelry took on
  this role in a variety of forms.. Small objects were of primary
  importance, with some examples being found in the early
  Neolithic strata of the caverns in Mas d=92Avil. It was here tha=

many pierces stags=92 teeth were discovered, often still in the
shape of a necklace with its holding twine long

Steve Guyot
Guyot Brothers Co Inc
Decorative jewelry findings & ornamental stampings since 1904

I might as well add another view to this fascinating dialogue. There
are several views I haven’t seen yet.

First, there is a consideration of spiritual content. Has anyone
considered that, from a Judeo-Christian standpoint, it is claimed
that man was created in the image of God. I’m not trying to get all
religious here so please bear with me. There are some who believe
that this “image of God” concept refers not only to a physical form
but also to a spiritual personage as well. God is a creator, if man
is a similar being then he will also be a creator. As such, with an
eye toward God’s appreciation for beauty (say trees, mountains,
celestial bodies in space, fish, rocks…), man would be quite
likely to take items of beauty and modify them for self adornment.It
may be as simple as showing an appreciation of the handiwork of the
greater creator.

A second point of view comes from my own personal observations. The
ties between art and science are without question. Even though early
man may have lacked the technical expertise that we have today, we
must remember that the technologies utilised by early man were
sufficient for species survival and were always in a state of
dynamic improvement. Flint knapping is an ancient technology. Common
thought is that early man utilised his stoneworking skills for the
manufacture of tools. Yet, admittedly later in time, Mayan
flintknappers, working with a variety of difficult stones with
microcrystaline structure, created amazingly detailed stone heads
for ceremonial staffs that show profiles of numerous ancestral
leaders. The only known function for these items were of a symbolic
nature and they are absolutely beautiful. Who’s to say that such
detailed stone working techniques were not similarly utilised much,
much earlier in time. Some person who comes up with a more efficient
knapping technique might easily gain status in a small
hunter-gatherer social dynamic. Simply coming up with a new
projectile point would not only ease hunting pressures but also
provide an article of human adornment. " I made this new point,
everyone realizes it’s value, I think I’ll hang one around my neck
to remind everyone who came up with it". Egalitarian social
circumstances aside, a certain status would be obtained.

Technological evolution of metalworking, resulting in numerous
unusable but beautiful “happy accidents”, could easily take similar
routes. The same goes for bone, wood, leather, feathers and the
like. Early man was probably much more in tune with the natural
realm than modern man is. He would have witnessed first hand how the
flora and fauna around him utilised adornment for a variety of
survival modalities. It only follows that such strategies would lead
to similar forms of human adornment.

Ok, that’s my 59 cents worth. Peace, love and joy on all of you.


I would respectfully beg to disagree with this statement.  Look at
photos of "native" tribes anywhere in the world.  I don't recall any
that DON'T use some form of self-adornment, and I certainly would
not assign "wealth and leisure" to these tribes!

I’ve a sneaky feeling, Beth, that your idea of what constitutes
wealth and leisure isn’t the same as for example, a member of an
African rain forest tribe,since you(we) are driven by Western
consumer society values, which place a disproportionately large
emphasis on material possessions,and conspicuous consumption of
resources, energised by a global media, and the African rainforest
dweller isn’t…

Steve Holden

Hi all, Just had to jump in on this thread.My jewelry class often
talk about this very subject. It has been interesting listening to
the various points of view . Our discussion often stars out with form
and function. How did this thing, form,shape take on a particular
function. Why did it have value to a person or a group of people?
How has it changed over the years?

Conspicuous consumption of wealth is only one reason for adornment,
and one that has more significance in a culture with a class system,
a currency, etc.

Other reasons for adornment are, simple aesthetic pleasure, magical
or talismanic, totemic, emblems of clan or social status apart from
wealth, as well as a display of artistic taste. I am sure others can
enumerate reasons for jewelry and adornment which I have missed.

For more fun, google neanderthal jewelry. Apparently, jewelry is not
only very old, it is older than homo sapiens.

Lee Einer
Dos Manos Jewelry

My two cents:

Some kinds of adornment are probably closely related to the idea of
capturing the power of a prey animal: bears’ claws, lion teeth, etc.
Similarly, human cannibalism is frequently related to capturing the
eaten person’s power or spirit. Other “powers” than just brute
strength are probably desired - hence the wearing of feathers,
quills, and other such items.

Other kinds of adornment probably boil down to, as someone else put
it - sex. Who mates the oftenest has the biggest effect on the gene
pool, and this applies to the human animal no less than to bower
birds. We can attract by power symbols (see above), status symbols,
beauty, adornments that advertise our fitness as providers or
parents - it all comes down to who is going to be providing the
genes for the next generation. We’ve just added an intellectual
dimension - or we like to think so. :slight_smile:


I think the desire for self adornment is something that we are born
with,. Even very little children like to put things on their heads,
or pick flowers and wear them,etc. I once had a dog that used to
burrow under the towel lining her dog bed , and come up with the
towel on her back (like a horse blanket)…and she’d parade around
with that thing on her back as if she was a fashion model. The urge
to self-decorate must have come first, and the excuses for so doing
probably followed later as cultures developed.(imho) Dee.

Tas, Quite true. I see the most powerful one of all was not included.
Wealth. It is amazing how easily that attracts. Many strutted around
as Mr. T. and more then flocked to them. May have been really
impressive before they began hollow chains, etc.

Rolls, Mercedes, Jags, etc. are powerful symbols, as are black chips
in Las Vegas. Celebrity is another. Just as empty as the gold
chains, but powerful.

Adornment whether worn, or driven create yet another gene pool. Go

Based on the all too abundant and frequent spam I receive for
"enlargement," it is no surprise that other symbols of wealth,
power, are used as they are.

“Oh what fools these mortals be.” Terrie

I do hope this post arrives, I’m quite new at this and a previous
post never saw the light of day. I am not an anthropologist, but I
do have a B.A. in anthropology. Stone age hunter/gatherer
societies—nomads, often had a surplus of wealth & leasure that we
could not imagine in our wildest dreams. A society of 30 to 60
people can follow the game, the water and the ripe vegetables
culling what little they need for each days sustinance in just a few
hours. The rest of the day could be spent playing with babies,
telling stories, and making fetishes. Some of these fetishes were
worn as masks & jewelry, almost all of them served a didactic ot
cerimonial purpose. People lived largely free of disease and
malnutrition because they were not over populated and had a varried
diet. In this way the whole society was wealthy. It was not until
population or climactic pressures forced us to settle down into
agrarian societies that wealth and leasure became the luxury of the
few, life spans shortened and misery and disease became rampant.

We will probably never know the motivations of the first hominids to
adorn themselves. However, while it is interesting to consider
this, we must keep in mind that we are doing so in the context of
our views of the world and our own adornment which most likely do
not approximate theirs. Of course I do not know, but I would
imagine that items of adornment had a much more significant role
than mere adornment or even as a statement of status at least until
much later in history. I would think this because “people” at that
time would have felt a much more integral “connection” with and less
of a feeling of separateness from the world and the items
surrounding them than we generally do today.

An example of what I mean is what I once read about why American
Indians decorated their moccasins (here’s one for the shoe lovers).
They did so as a means to compensate for the harm done to the living
things of beauty that they were trampling upon as they walked. A
pretty spiritual motivation for adornment. Of course I can’t say
that they weren’t also thinking “and this looks pretty cool, too!”.

An interesting point to ponder anyway.

Best Regards, Dale in Michigan where the crocuses are in blossom, the
robins are back, and it’s about 16 degrees tonight. (Those silly robins!) Brrrrr!