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Ancient Beads: Middle East

The term the Middle East and its cognates are all very imprecise. I define it here (but not everywhere) as the lands forming a rough triangle whose points are Morocco, Turkey and Afghanistan.

This region has been very important in the development of beads. It is home to the "Neolithic Revolution" that introduced villages, farming and husbandry. It was in this milieu that the Evil Eye superstition developed.

It was here that ground tools were first employed (beads were ground before tools). It is also where the bow and shaft was invented, possibly used for drilling stone beads before being employed as a bow and arrow.

In the Middle East several important bead materials were first used or invented. These include metals, faience and glass. Another invention was the seal, with many uses and many links to other beads. Beads are still being made in the region, with Hebron (West Bank) being the most important successor.

Of all Middle Eastern Societies, the one that people find most compelling is Egypt. There is great interest in its beads, including faience beads and amulets and amulets in general.

In more recent times, the glass beads of the Middle East developed into some of the most popular and widespread beads in the world. Nearly any old interesting glass bead used to be called "Roman" or "Phoenician." Since I pointed out that many are actually Early Islamic in date, that has become the default description for those who have no idea of a bead's date or origin. None of this is helpful.

After many years of working on the problem, surveying the literature and cataloging excavated collections, I was invited to work on the excavations at Berenike, Egypt, which spans the Hellenistic and Roman periods. I have now worked at the site for two seasons. The second season is reported here. Berenike was heavily involved in the Indian Ocean Trade.

This has proven to be the key and I have now come up with the first comprehensive look at these beads. Middle Eastern Glass Bead: A New Paradigm is being serialized on The Bead Site. It is also published in more detail in Margaretologist 12(2). Plates for this issue are available here.

We have several books on Middle Eastern beads.

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