A new study by scientists from the Max Planck Institute has revealed that ostrich eggshell beads can provide insights into ancient social networks across Africa. These beads are some of the world’s oldest fully manufactured ornaments and were produced in a wide variety of styles by different cultures, offering a valuable opportunity to study connections between these populations. To do so, researchers compiled the largest ever database of ostrich eggshell beads, with over 1,500 beads from the last 50,000 years. Comparing these objects, they determined that people in eastern and southern Africa were using almost identical beads between 50,000 and 33,000 years ago, suggesting that a long-distance social network once connected these populations. The bead data also shed new light on the breakdown of such regional networks and its possible connection to changing global climates. The results of this decade-long research project have now been published in Nature (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04227-2).