Because we were lucky enough to recently connect with a wholesale supplier for ancient beads, and because we're excited that we'll be listing some of our incredible acquisitions soon, I thought we'd do a re-post of a writeup we did on ancient beads some time ago. I hope it's not too redundant for folks who've been with us for a while, but I know we have many new subscribers who probably haven't seen this and would be interested. So here goes!
Did you know that archaeologists and bead historians have set the date for the earliest use of beads at somewhere between 50-100,000 years ago? Beads are some of the most common archeological finds, and carry with them the story of humankind!
Beads are one of the oldest forms of art. In the Stone Age, they most likely were used for bodily adornment, and were made of natural materials such as eggshell, carved stone, bones, amber, ivory, horn, tusks, wood, shell, nuts, seeds, and other plant or animal matter. In the time of the ancient Egyptians, Syrians, Bedouins, Vikings, Celts -- and people of the Indus Valley, Incas, Andenas, and Mississippians, used them in important societal ceremonies -- and made them of plant seeds, small freshwater pearls, coral, wood, clay, and other natural materials. In many other cultures, bead-like creations (shell, cut into circular disks with open centers, or other designs) were used as money.
Northern Africa has been home to many large beadmaking industries, both ancient and modern. Romans, Saxons, central Africans, and Native North Americans have invented and created copious amounts of beads, in glass, gemstone, and metal. Sand-cast, powder-glass, or sugar beads, made from recycled glass, originated in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Indian subcontinent, with its abundant supply of precious and semiprecious stones, claims one of the world's oldest beadmaking traditions. Sophisticated beadmaking in this region may have originated in 7000 B.C., and continues to this day -- yielding exquisite samples of turquoise, lapis lazuli, and alabaster. Other gemstones, like carnelians, garnets, emeralds and diamonds are cut and polished in this region as well. And today, there is a well-known industry noted for its silver beads -- reaching from India into today's Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. These regions also yield exceptional lampwork and foil beads.
Ancient China has been credited for the development of cloisonne, porcelain, and enamel beads. The Far East has been known for its use of jade, ceramics, and fine glass beads. And the long history of beads in what is today Japan may have commenced in 10,000 B.C. As in Egypt, the Japanese practiced the custom of entombing the dead with great quantities of beads -- of bone, stone, shell, and jadite.
In Europe, small glass beads emerged around 1000 B.C., and were also produced in Egypt, Syria, and later in the Roman Empire. But it was not until the Middle Ages that glass seed beads, so named because of their relative smallness, became readily available on the global market. In around 1500, Venice took the lead in the world production and export of glass beads -- and mass production as well as worldwide trade routes created a booming industry. Murano glass beads are famous for their quality and uniqueness; this tradition has produced the types called millefiori, chevron, seed, and trail (wedding-cake) beads.
Since the 1500s, regions including the Czech Republic, Moravia, Austria, Germany, Poland, France, Porttugal, Spain, and the Netherlands, have had a vibrant glass bead industry.
In the New World, the Incas of Peru and Colombia were sophisticated silversmiths and goldsmiths. The Aztecs and Maya were known not only for exotic gold and silver jewelry, but also for exquisite rock-crystal and jade jewelry. In modern Mexico, beads are made of clay, glass and gemstones, coral, amber, and shells. In the area today encompassing, northern Mexico, the US and Canada, most valuable beads were made of shell (Wampum).
As you can see, virtually all cultures and nations on earth have fashioned or adopted uses of beads. Beads have been used to declare social status, express feelings, and document important historical events. Beads have served as 'money' or a general medium of exchange, and have been used to express spiritual beliefs through prayer. They have been used in a virtually infinite variety of ways for adornment -- woven into hair, sewn to leather or silk, embroidered into costumes, strung on chains or cord. They have been used as symbols in storytelling, and in important events such as tribal councils.
Many beaders may not fully understand, acknowledge, or admit their obsession with beads. If you think you're immune, we suspect you're not. Why else would you be reading this?
I rest my case!
SO.... What kind of bead would you like to know more about? Click 'Reply' at the end of this post and tell us!
If you enjoyed this post, you'd probably also enjoy Collecting Ancient Beads, at http://www.thebead.net/index.php/bead-blog-rss/127-collecting-ancient-beads
Until Next Time,