The discovery of 2,000-year-old, iridescent green figeater beetle (Cotinis mutabilis) jewelry at two sites at Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah may help solve a long-standing historical mystery.

For years, archaeologists have debated why decorative metals and semi-precious stones have never been uncovered in the American Southwest from the period 500 BCE to 500 CE, when Basketmaker II society was in the thick of an agricultural revolution. It’s a major exception to a universal cultural shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture with which those artifacts are almost always associated.

William Lipe.

Archaeologist William D. Lipe, a professor emeritus at Washington State University in Pullman, agrees that the iridescent beetle adornments from Bears Ears were prestige goods and status symbols. But, he says, the artifacts, which date to around 70-60 BCE, are by no means the first ones associated with Basketmaker II society. It’s just that archaeologists have historically interpreted objects made of perishable materials as less valuable than those made from metal or stone, in part because they were less likely to survive the last 2,000 years than the decorative metal and stone goods of other early agricultural societies.

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