History of Jewellery – Prehistoric Age

Are you a Jewellery buff and a History buff? 

Makes you a Hist(w)ery!

My sense is you already have read a lot about both. I will try to make this easy to read and hope for even a fun experience.

Most historians believe the history of jewellery is as old as humankind, and there is enough evidence found by them to validate this belief. 

Primarily human evolution is grouped into 3 parts: 

  1. Prehistoric Age: 3.3mn years to 500 AD
  2. Middle Age: 476 AD – 14th Century
  3. Modern Age: 14th Century – 20th Century
History of jewellery. Prehistoric Age

Historical periods are fluid and subject to interpretation. The categorization of historical periods is widely used to understand broad patterns and trends in history. Different historians and people may have varying perspectives.

Broad Timeline and Overview of the Prehistoric Age

It is essential to understand life in the Prehistoric age – before recorded history to know about the history of jewellery and its evolution in that period.

It spans a vast timeframe, from the emergence of the earliest humans to the advent of agriculture and the transition into the Bronze Age. 

History of jewellery. Prehistoric age. Hunt scene
Source: Robert Stewart Burrett, Wikimedia Commons
  • Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle: Humans lived in nomadic groups and relied on hunting animals and wild plants for sustenance. 
  • Basic Tools and Technology: Prehistoric people developed simple tools made from stones, bones, and wood for hunting, cutting, and gathering.
  • Cave Dwellings and Shelters: Natural caves or constructed temporary dwellings using materials like branches, animal hides, and rocks for protection
  • Fire and Cooking: The mastery of fire provided warmth, protection from predators, and the ability to cook food.
  • Art and Expression: Cave paintings and rock engravings provide insights into their daily lives and interactions with the natural world.
  • Nomadic Lifestyle to Settled Communities: Some communities transitioned from nomadic to settled agriculture, developing farming methods and domesticating animals and plants.
  • Social Structures and Belief Systems: Social structures in societies were complex, with individuals performing specific roles within them. 

It is easy to see the influence of the Prehistoric lifestyle while exploring the history of jewellery, jewellery motifs, and how it was manufactured.  

What type of jewellery was found in the Prehistoric age?

Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, anklets, pendants, rings, and decorative pins have been discovered through archaeological findings.

What materials were used to make jewellery during the Prehistoric period?

Ancient Shell Jewellery. History of jewellery. Prehistoric Age.
Tritia gibbosula and Columbella rustica shell beads Manot Cave, Levantine Aurignacian culture, 37,000–33,000 years ago, Collection of Israel Antiquities Authority (photo credit: ELIE POSNER)


  • Materials found in the natural environment that could be easily shaped or modified were commonly used.
  • Shells, bones, stones, animal teeth, feathers, bronze, iron, and plant fibres were used to carve jewellery. 

Some examples: 

  • Painted Sea Shells & Beads strung together using natural fibres
  • Necklaces, bracelets made from large or small bones from animals like arctic foxes etc 
  • Stones strung together to make bracelets

What type of jewellery designs/motifs were worn in the Prehistoric age?

Prehistoric Jewellery. History of jewellery.
User:Christaras A (transfer) Idomeneas (creator), Wikimedia Commons

Ancient jewellery pieces excavated over the years suggest that, in the Prehistoric age, jewellery motifs were often inspired by elements found in nature, spiritual beliefs, and cultural traditions. 

Excavated jewellery pieces plus common beliefs about life then, suggest that some common jewellery designs or motifs were:

  • Animal Motifs:  Given that humans were hunters then, animal motifs have been found

Examples include jewellery designs inspired by animal figures, such as eagles, bears, birds, snakes, or fish.

  • Geometric Patterns:  Simple shapes like circles, triangles, and lines have been excavated at archaeological sites. 

These designs may have held spiritual meanings like harmony, balance, or cosmic order.

  • Plant and Floral Motifs:  The fact humans were inspired by their natural habitat back then,  leaves, vines, flowers, or fruits, either in realistic forms were dominant motifs.

These motifs may have symbolized growth, fertility, or the cycle of life.

  • Sun and Celestial Motifs:  The sun and celestial bodies held great significance in Prehistoric cultures, and they were often depicted in jewellery designs. 

Sun symbols, star patterns, or representations of the moon were used to symbolize celestial forces, spirituality, or the cycle of time.

  • Abstract Symbols:  Jewelry with abstract symbols that carried the cultural or spiritual significance of protection, abundance, fertility, or specific cultural beliefs and rituals were worn by humans. 

The motifs used in the Prehistoric jewellery era not only added visual appeal but also conveyed deep cultural and symbolic significance, reflecting the beliefs and values of the communities that created them.

What techniques were used to manufacture jewellery in the Prehistoric Age?

Jewelry was crafted using primitive methods such as carving, drilling, and stringing natural materials like shells, bones, and stones.

Prehistoric Jewellery, History of Jewellery
Discott, Wikipedia Commons

Why was Jewelry made during the Prehistoric period?

The selection of specific shapes, motifs, and materials was not arbitrary but carried deep meaning and conveyed messages about the wearer’s life, beliefs, and societal role. 

  • According to many historians, jewellery from that period had symbolic and ritualistic significance and represented social status, religion, or culture.
  • It is also believed that jewellery might have been exchanged as gifts or used as currency in trade.
  • Jewellery helped humans survive. Some jewellery pieces were purposely designed with sharp edges for protection. 

What was the cultural symbolism of jewellery from the Prehistoric period?

Prehistoric Age, Prehistoric Jewellery, History of jewelry
Source Pic: Perforated shell(s), Musee Archeologique, St. Germain-en-Laye

Some key aspects of cultural symbolism associated with jewellery during that time:

  • Social Hierarchy:  Ancient jewellery served as a visual marker of a person’s position, authority, or membership in a particular tribe. 

Ones who owned more ornate and high-value pieces were in positions of power or prestige.

  • Spiritual and Ritualistic Significance:  For millions of years, humans believe jewellery to possess protective or supernatural powers, warding off evil spirits or bringing good luck. 

They were used in religious ceremonies, rituals, and rites of passage.

  • Identity:  Jewelry signified membership within a specific tribe.

Designs, materials, and motifs were unique to the tribe one belonged to. 

  • Connection to Nature and the Divine:  Designs embodied beliefs in the divine forces and the interconnectedness of humans and nature.
  • The Symbolism of Materials and Colors: The use of rare materials like amber or shells may have symbolized wealth, trade, or access to distant regions. 

Colours such as red or blue could have symbolized vitality, fertility, or spiritual significance.

Relationship between Jewellery and Clothing in the Prehistoric Age:

History of jewellery, prehistoric age. Prehistoric Jewellery
Jim Linwood from London. Walk With Beasts exhibition – Horniman Museum, London.

While researching ancient jewellery history in this period, it was observed that there was some connection:

  • Jewellery and clothing often complemented each other in Prehistoric times.
  • Jewellery could be worn to embellish or accessorize clothing, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal.
  • It reflected the cultural and artistic sensibilities of the community and contributed to individual and group identity.

Popular beliefs about jewellery in the Prehistoric age:

  • Amulets or talismans were believed to possess protective or magical properties, considered charms to ward off evil or bring good luck to the wearer.
  • Often, tribal members were buried with jewellery for afterlife use
  • Eagles were considered powerful omens. Hence jewellery was made using eagle talon

Wrapping up 

The history of jewellery in the Prehistoric age served as a visual language, carrying profound messages about identity, status, spirituality, and cultural traditions. 

Each piece was a unique reflection of the wearer’s life, beliefs, and connection to the world around them.

To know about the History of Jewellery from different, please click below:

History of Jewellery – Middle Age 

History of Jewellery – Modern Age 

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