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History of Beads

Updated on May 13, 2015

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.

What do you think of beads and their history? - Share your thoughts, but please don't spam my guestbook. Thanks

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    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 4 years ago

      Very interesting!

    • Beaddoodler profile image

      Jennie Hennesay 4 years ago from Lubbock TX

      @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.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      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

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 7 years ago

      Beads are interesting. I think so too

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      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.

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      TanyaWhaley 8 years ago

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

    • Beaddoodler profile image

      Jennie Hennesay 8 years ago from Lubbock TX

      [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 profile image

      ctavias0ffering1 8 years ago

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