A set of eight copper beads found next to the wrist of an 8,500-year-old skeleton in Mehrgarh, Pakistan, contains evidence of the oldest known cotton fibers. Jérôme Haquet and Benoît Mille of the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris examined the beads and found microscopic traces of several cotton fibers. The fibers were probably once part of a cord that bound the hammered copper beads together into a bracelet. Metallic salts on the surface of the copper preserved the imprint of the threads from bacterial decay.
Until now, the oldest cotton samples were five millennia younger. The find at Mehrgarh suggests that the peoples of the region may have been among the first to recognize the potential of the cotton plant. "These people were agriculturalists and pastoralists: They tended goats and sheep and cultivated barley and wheat. This is a bit early for domesticated cotton, but it could probably have grown wild in the area at that time," says archaeo- botanist Margareta Tengberg of the Sorbonne, who helped analyze the fibers.