Has your child ever given you a rock, as a gift? Well, it was the preferred gift for ancient humans, too.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where you can create ‘gifts’ with the letters provided.
There’s nothing more heartwarming than giving a loved one a gift that makes them smile. Even our ancient ancestors knew this – humans have been giving and receiving gifts for thousands of years. Paleoanthropologists in Europe have found symbolic, handmade gifts from between 35,000 to 10,000 years ago. From decorated rocks, bones, shells and teeth, to tree bark and feathers, the gifts that ancient humans gave each other were not simple by any means. They were usually handmade, and involved thoughtful, intricate work.
Aesthetic symbols were engraved, pierced and even sewn onto necklaces, bracelets and clothing. One example is a 40,000-year-old ivory figurine from the Upper Paleolithic era, discovered in Germany in 2008, known as the Venus of Hohle Fels. In the shape of a female figure, carved from mammoth tusk, it was most likely worn as an amulet or pendant.
In ancient Egypt, on the other hand, gifts were usually offered to deities, in exchange for favours, health, wealth or protection. Those who died were usually buried with gifts that they could supposedly use for safe passage, and a comfortable time in the afterlife. Pharaohs also received gifts on their coronation day. And on ancient Egyptian New Year, which fell roughly around July 19, people would dress to the nines and exchange gifts, like vases or small flasks with water from the Nile.
Ancient Greece, too, had similar traditions of offering gifts in return for protection from deities. Children were often given amulets when they were born, to protect them from diseases. And on birthdays, wicked spirits were thought to haunt the birthday boy or girl, so gifts to ward off evil were customary.
The world also has ancient Greece to thank for the tradition of blowing out candles on birthday cakes. Ancient Greeks would light candles and then blow them out while making a vow of protection. They would also offer round cakes, which symbolised the full moon, to the deity Artemis.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages in Europe, and the exchange of gifts became more commonplace, losing its relevance to superstitious beliefs. In social interactions, it became a useful way to foster relationships or prove loyalty to influential people. The most common form of gifts was edible food – extremely tasty treats were considered to be a status symbol, and a sign of wealth.
Today, however, gifts are going digital. With more and more people buying online, ideal options include gift cards, such as a subscription for video streaming or a fixed-value spending card from an online retailer. Giving the gift of an experience, like a weekend getaway, or a day at an amusement park, is another popular way to show love or appreciation.