To determine whether the tiny beads were made from locally sourced shells or from species originating from further afield, such as the Mediterranean thorny oyster (Spondylus) often used to make personal adornments in prehistory, the researchers sampled six of the necklace’s beads.
Demarchi and colleagues compared the beads’ amino acid concentrations with a data set comprising 777 molluscan samples. The investigation was integrated with morphological observations by electron and light microscopy and mineralogical examinations by Raman spectroscopy.
From the results, it appears that Bronze Age craftspeople used local shells like dog whelk (Nucella lapillus) and tusk shells (Antalis) to make the necklace.
Conical, curved and open at both ends, tusk shells resemble miniature elephant tusks, hence the name. Dog whelks are predatory, carnivorous sea snails often found on rocky shores.
While dog whelks are abundant around the Suffolk coast today, tusk shells are less widespread but present along the southern coast. According to the researchers, both shells were likely to have been sourced and worked locally.
“Now we have a relatively simple and only micro-destructive approach that provides information about the raw materials used for these precious and rare artifacts,” Julie Wilson told Discovery News.
“It will help answer questions on sourcing and potentially answer questions on the extent of trading,” she added.
Richenda Goffin, finds and post-excavation manager at Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service, agrees.
“The well-stratified and well-dated finds enlarge our understanding of the remarkable ingenuity and skills of our ancestors in using both local and regional resources to manufacture finely-made artifacts,” Goffin told Discovery News.