See Beadshaper Gallery for fabulous fashionable hand crafted jewelry.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Prehistoric and Ancient Bead Trade

Beads have been involved in trade going back to prehistoric times. Excavations at Skhul in Israel found 100,000 year old small shells that were used as decorative beads. The location of the excavation was some distance from the sea where the shells were collected indicating that they were brought by someone to that location, possibly bartered. The beads had holes in them. If those holes were made by humans, this would indicate that they were probably strung and used for ornamentation. Similar shell beads have also been found in South Africa dating back 75,000 years and in Algeria dating back 30,000 to 90,000 years.
Beads in the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia beginning with Sumer were more sophisticated and often were made of clay, metal, or semi-precious stones. Mesopotamia developed trade including beads with the other civilizations of the time, especially Egypt, but also Persia and India. The Mesopotamian crafters were known for their Carnelian beads. The Egyptian crafters were known for their lapis lazuli beads. Lapis stones were mostly mined in what is now Afghanistan and imported into Egypt where the raw material was made into beads and other objects. Bead making in China and in the Mayan civilization in the Americas developed independently. The Chinese were know for their jade beads. Beads made in the various places were carried to far away places over trade routes. As far as we know, the Mayans never were involved in the bead trade outside of the Americas because their civilization pre-dated the discovery of the New World by Columbus.
Glass bead making was developed in Egypt. The Phoenicians, who were active in trade, picked it up and transported it to other civilizations. Glass bead making was further developed in Greek and later Roman civilizations.
You can see modern day handcrafted glass beads at


No comments: