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History of Beads


History of Beads World Wide

I find the history of beads a fascinating subject. Beads have been found by archaeologists in every part of the world. Beads were the first artifacts found that didn't relate to hunting and the daily necessities. These finds date back as far as 40,000 years ago.

The earliest known beads were made from shells, animal teeth, animal claws and various seeds. Later beads were made from clay, faience, then glass. It isn't known for sure, but some historians think that the earliest beadwork was for religious purposes and was thought to protect the wearer from evil or attract certain good fortune.

Some historical novels based on thorough research project the idea that beadwork also signified rank or social status.


Beads in Egypt

Some historians give credit to the Egyptians for inventing faience beads, others say the process originated in Mesopotamia then was imported to Egypt. This process involves mixing clay with lime, soda and silica sand, shaping it around a straw or other object to form a hole and firing it. The heat melts the silica sand and lime forming a glass-like substance that coats and is incorporated into the clay. This gives a hard glass-like bead and some think it may have been the forerunner to glass making.

The Egyptians were manufacturing glass beads in 1365 BC. They mixed metal salts with silica sand and lime to produce different colors. Cobalt produced blue, tin white, copper green and gold red. At that time glass was used by the Egyptians almost exclusively for beads for ornamentation. Judith Illes has a very interesting article on "Fabulous Fakes".

Historians are still puzzling over whether their jewelry was simply for adornment, or if, as in the case of many ancient cultures, different colors or stones represented different protective or healing properties. Mummies were often covered in a beaded netting, some with religious symbols worked into them.

The History of Beads

If you're interested in the history of beads don't miss this great book by Lois Sherr Dubin. It covers the history of beads from 30,000 BC to the present time, is divided into counties and cultures and has beautiful pictures.


Venetian and Czech Beads

There is evidence that China has been making and exporting glass beads for centuries, but the most renowned bead factory was located in Venice Italy until concerns that a mishap with one of the glass furnaces could destroy the city. The factory was moved to Murano, an island north of Venice. A guild of Venetian glass makers held a near monopoly on bead making for nearly 600 years until they were no longer able to keep up with demand.

Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) had been making glassware such as vases and cups for centuries and were well versed in the art of glass making. Bohemian workers were sent to work in the glass factories of Murano and the knowledge they brought back to their homeland enabled the Bohemians to begin production of glass beads. In the mid 18th century they were producing more beads than the factories at Murano.

Glass and Brass beads have been found in burial sites of many cultures: Egyptian tombs, Roman catacombs, Saxon, African, and American Indian to name just a few.

More History of Beads

You can find more information about the history of beads in these links.

  • Ancient beads
    The Ancient World... The ancient world was far flung and full of mysteries, legends, adventures, romances, and battles won and lost...  and eons later we are still excavating the reminders of those times...  All the antiquities listed below are gua
  • Beads, a brief history.
    Free article on the history of beads. Many other craft related articles available at Craftown.
  • Beadwork, Revival of a Dieing Art
    Some of the most beautiful jewelry is hand made using various beadwork stitches. This type of jewelry lost favor for a while, but is now enjoying a revival.
  • World’s Oldest Manufactured Beads Are Older Than Previously Thought
    Archaeologists have uncovered some of the world's earliest shell ornaments in a limestone cave in Eastern Morocco. The researchers have found 47 examples of Nassarius marine shells, most of them perforated and including examples covered in red ochre,
  • daxdesigns bead art: Peyote, gourd or running-bond stitch: what's in a name?
    History is often tricky to piece together so it shouldn’t be surprising that the history of beadweaving is not straightforward. Nowhere is this clearer than in trying to piece together the history of an off-loom beadweaving stitch that is widely call
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What do you think of beads and their history? - Share your thoughts, but please don't spam my guestbook. Thanks

mel-kav on August 03, 2013:

Very interesting!

Jennie Hennesay (author) from Lubbock TX on August 03, 2013:

@anonymous: Because I never heard of them Thank you! This civilization never came up in my search for bead history. I'll need to be doing some more research. They made some really amazing beads.

anonymous on August 03, 2013:

why didn't you mention about the harappan beads??

anonymous on February 10, 2013:

Excellent overview! I want to present the history of beads to my grandson's first grade class, because they are doing beading as a hand/eye coordination exercise, and I have been collecting beads for many years. Thank you. Mitzie

Patricia on December 23, 2010:

Beads are interesting. I think so too

anonymous on February 22, 2010:

I keep thinking I should do a mummy cover, but if they bury it with me I'll die. Beads are for the living. The great things have been around forever, pottery, glass, beads. Thanks for the lens.

TanyaWhaley on January 06, 2010:

Truly Awesome lens! Love it! 5 *'s and favorited! Happy New Year! Wish you all the best!

Jennie Hennesay (author) from Lubbock TX on April 21, 2009:

[in reply to 0ctavias0fferings] Thanks for the read rate and comment. Yes I do plan to expand on this, but they will be different lenses about different countries. May take a while! :)

ctavias0ffering1 on April 21, 2009:

Very nice lens and a subject I'm sure you could add to. 5* and a sprinkling of Angel Dust

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