Personal adornment

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Adornment of the body is a human universal, even in societies that wear little or no clothing; it may take the form of modifying the body surface (e.g. styled hair, tattoo, etc.) or of attaching or otherwise affixing objects to it (e.g. necklace, earring). Among the first artefacts in the archaeological record are snail shell beads excavated from Late Stone Age (ca 70 kya) coastal caves in South Africa. Great apes in nature, especially orangutans, drape themselves with objects, e.g. usually vegetation, rarely animal skin, or even whole dead animals. During locomotion, objects hang unhandled from the neck, which requires symmetry and balance to be kept in that position. There is one report of a knotted, monkey-skin necklace being worn by a chimpanzee. Enculturated captive apes sometimes wear jewellery, make-up, etc., in apparent mimicry of their human caretakers.

Given the fuzzy line between functional (e.g. thermoregulatory) and non-functional (e.g. aesthetic) clothing, adornment is not always clear. Similarly, species-typical attachment of objects as camouflage (e.g. assassin bugs, sloths) can hardly be counted as personal. All of the above records of great ape adornment are descriptive, and most are anecdotal or idiosyncratic.

If decorative body art in humans sometimes functions to attract mates, then this may be so in non-humans as well, but this has not been studied.

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  1. A worked bone assemblage from 120,000–90,000 year old deposits at Contrebandiers Cave, Atlantic Coast, Morocco, Hallett, Emily Y., Marean Curtis W., Steele Teresa E., Álvarez-Fernández Esteban, Jacobs Zenobia, Cerasoni Jacopo Niccolò, Aldeias Vera, Scerri Eleanor M. L., Olszewski Deborah I., Hajraoui Mohamed Abdeljalil, et al. , iScience, 09/16/2021, (2021)