Among perhaps the first ornamentation for humans, the uses of beads are varied, in modern times, just as they were from earlier centuries.
1850's beaded bag from France: glass seed beads, crocheted with silk thread
As with other forms of jewelry, beads can experience effects due to daily wear. When looking at ancient beads in particular, it could be difficult not to think about the life of the wearer, who owned it, and the distance traveled, as many beads were used for trade. The phrase, "small change of civilians", beads are a part of every culture, and they can often be used to date sites, and to designate the degree of mercantile, technological, and cultural sophistication.
Buddhistmala: Prayer beads made from bones of a lama (holy man), coral and silk tassels
Beads are small, colorful, often found in endless configurations. In West Africa beadwork is used in alter mantles, and garments for royal statues. Even today, in certain tribal cultures certain beads are worn from birth to death and then buried with the owner for the afterlife. In ancient Asia, beads were scattered like seeds to induce bountiful harvests, the Kogi of Columbia use beads in ritual offerings to insure the future of newly built houses. In the Philippines, placing two beads in a cup at wedding ceremonies bind marriages. They are used to communicate social status, used for curative powers, and used as mediums for exchange in barter and the standard units of value in market systems. Beads give us a glimpse into the culture of which they are a part of which can tell us a great deal about the lives of the people that wore them.
Zulu Shaman's necklace from South Africa: tortiseshell, seeds, snake vertebrae, teeth, glass beads, leather & glass bead amulets
Beads, used as jewelry, incorporated into articles of clothing or accessories, are as varied today as they were in the centuries past. As a jeweler, I am always referring back to beads for subtle or dominate parts of my designs. My first jewelry was created from beads, and I continue to find them among the most precious tiny works of art, either ancient or modern.
Personal collection of trade bead strands
Southwestern jewelry 1920-195: turquoise, coral, bone, shell, and silver
Come in and enjoy finding your own tiny treasure in the form of a bead.
*Information sourced from "The History of Beads from 30,000 B.C. to the Present", by Lois Sherr Dubin. This is a wonderful book with images and history I would highly recommend for any bead and history lover.