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The Fascinating World of Bead Research

Easily glossed over as mere baubles, beads are actually repositories of vast amounts of information. They can tell us a lot about the people who made, traded, and used them, as well as when, how, and from what they were made. Each bead, old or new, has a story to tell. Those willing to invest their time in gaining the required skills and knowledge can pry the desired information from each bead they encounter, whether from an archaeological or ethnographic context, or a thrift-shop purchase. If you share this desire to learn about beads and the items made from them, we urge you to join the Society of Bead Researchers and begin your journey into the fascinating world of bead research.

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Beads have been with us since our ancestors lived in caves. Just about every culture on earth has made use of them for various purposes, but mostly as adornment. When properly studied, much information can be gleaned from them. Here a researcher sorts shell beadmaking debris from a pre-Columbian site in the Bahamas in order to learn how the beads were made (see Volume 22, 2010).

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Some 19th-century scholars had the peculiar notion that the chevron beads found in early Indian graves had been brought to North America by globe-trotting Phoenicians or representatives of some other higher European civilization. We now know they were made much later (see Volume 4, 1992).

chevron beads-volume 4 1992
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Ancient beadmakers created some amazing adornments such as the beautiful “dragonfly-eye beads” which were so highly regarded during the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.) in ancient China (see Volume 25, 2013).

The Bohemians in what is now the Czech Republic created a major beadmaking industry that was second only to that of the Venetians during the 19th and 20th centuries. They created glass and ceramic beads in a myriad of forms (see Volume 23, 2011).

czech beads from volume 4 1992
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Made in the billions, seed beads were fashioned into a wide variety of handsomely beaded items such as the souvenir items that have been the mainstay of the beadwork prepared by the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois of northeastern North America (see Volume 15, 2003).

During WWI, Turkish POWs created beaded snakes and lizards from seed beads to sell to their captors to earn money for cigarettes and other items. Some of the snakes are over six feet long (see Volume 19, 2007).

beaded snake for Volume 19 2007

Bead News
The SBR will have a table in the book room at the upcoming Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology (CNEHA) to be held at the City Hall in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 7-9 October. All journals will be available as well as several other bead-related publications, some as free give-aways. If you are in the area, drop in and say hello. You do not need to be registered for the conference to visit the book room. For more about the conference, visit: http://www.cneha.org/conference.html.

We will also have a book-room table at the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings in Fort Worth, Texas, in early January of 2017. More on that later.