The study of butterfly beads, which first appeared during the tenth millennium cal. bc, covers an important span of the Neolithization process and gives new insights on the symbolic and socio-economic systems of the first farming communities in the Near East. By the end of the Pre-pottery Neolithic, butterfly beads acquired sophisticated shapes and became appreciably larger. Simultaneously, the choice of raw materials changed towards brighter and more colourful allochthonous rocks. These changes reflect a desire to make the butterfly beads more conspicuous as well as an increased demand for ‘prestige’ materials. The technological mastery required to shape and perforate these beads suggests craft specialization and changes in social organization. The morphological and technological complexity of these items, the aesthetic quality of their raw materials, the variability in the degrees of use-wear, along with the particularity of the archaeological contexts, imply a polysemantic reading of their symbolic functions. Butterfly beads were likely related to motherhood and fecundity. Objects of memory and valuable items of ‘prestige’, they comprised part of family or group heirlooms and were worn for special ceremonies. They undoubtedly represented the cultural identity of the first farming societies in upper Mesopotamia and the Levant.