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Other Research Projects

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Our current projects are:

Middle Eastern Glass Beads
The Beads of Early Colonial America (Jamestown and St.Catherines GA)
The Arikamedu Project
The Latin American Survey
The Capitals of North India: Their Bead Story
Beads Along the American Frontier
The Oldest Beads in America
Beads and the African-American Experience

Recent Updates in Dark Red

Middle Eastern Glass Beads (MEG)

The Mediterranean littoral is the home of glass beads and of one of the great beadmaking regions of all times. Many of its beads are labeled "Roman" in the literature, just as many modern European beads were once regarded. A general survey has been badly needed. To date, I have completed these steps.

  1. Middle Eastern Glass Beads: A New Paradigmbegan as a series on The Bead Site in March 1999.It is also the topic ofMargaretologist12(2), to be published in late 1999.
  2. Catalogue the beads from Berenike, Egypt through 2001. Berenike was a Red Sea port functioning from the third century B.C. to the sixth century A.D. I have submitted my preliminary report to be published next year and I have been asked to write a monograph on them after the 2003 excavation season. Nearly 4000 beads excavated during the first seven seasons were catalogued. They give an excellent overview of Roman bead production and import.In July 1999 I participated in a panel from Berenike at the South Asia Archaeology Conference in Leiden, Holland, discussing trade between Egypt and the East.
  3. Drawn up a provisional chronology (ca. 500 B.C. to 1200 A.D.) coordinating the literature (good references are hard to find) and assemblages that I have catalogued. One finding was that some bead types were very long-lived, at least from 300 BC to AD 1200 including: a.) Small monochrome segmented beads, b.) Gold-glass beads and c.) Blue single-strip folded bicones. Others (mosaics, special folded beads and "agate glass" beads) were also made for long periods, but their styles changed.
  4. Europe was largely isolated from Middle Eastern bead sources. In the Halstatt and La TÚne periods Europeans made their own beads. Only in Roman times did Mediterranean glass beads dominate European markets. After the breakup of the Western Roman Empire, succeeding states (the Frankish kingdom, the Avars and above all the Norse) made their own glass beads. Only along the eastern flank of Europe, occupied by Slavs and organized by Vikings, was there much bead trade between post-Rome Europe and the Middle East. The European story is the theme of issue No. 21 of the Margaretologist, the journal of the Center for Bead Research. There is also a gallery of these beads here.

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The Beads of Early Colonial America

This builds on the historical study in Beads and the Discovery of the New World, including the Purchase of Manhattan. I have had the chance to examine beads from two early colonial sites and will incorporate the new information into future work.

  1. Mission Santa Catalina de Guale on St. Catherines Island, Georgia was the northernmost permanent Spanish settlement in the Americas. Occupied by the Spanish from 1576-97 and 1604-80, the site gives us an excellent vision of an East Coast Spanish outpost. David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History (New York) and his team have excavated some 62,000 beads from native Guale burials in the cemetery. I am a consultant for the project (cataloguing has mercifully been done) and have visited the collection three times already. I shall be co-authoring (with Lori Pendleton) a book on them. They are featured in Margaretologist 14(2). Color plates are here.
  2. Jamestown, Virginia, was the first English settlement in America established in 1607. Recent excavations by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in front of the church have uncovered a corner of the original fort. From that evidence, the rest of the fort was traced. There have now been several seasons of excavation. Over 300 beads were found through 1996. They are quite astounding. My report in Margaretologist 9(2) is already revising the chronology of the early American bead trade.

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The Arikamedu Project

This is my oldest research project focused on a single site. Arikamedu, in Southeast India, is the most important place in the history of beads. It is the only place known to have been a major glass and stone beadmaker. The glass beads were the most common trade bead, perhaps the most common trade item, in history. The stone beads were crucial to making South India "Treasure Chest of the World." Arikamedu lapidaries evolved several important innovations. I started studying the beads of this place in 1981. I have published many articles about it.

Volume One of The Ancient Port of Arikamedu has been released. It is the first of two volumes to report on the 1989-92 excavations by the Universities of Pennsylvania and Madras. It includes a detailed introduction by Vimala Begley, the chief excavator, and studies of the ceramics of the Northern Sector. I have a small article on the shell bangle industry. Volume Two is in press. It includes a major report on the beads, the most detailed account to date.

The importance of Arikamedu may be seen by visiting pages about it here The Arikamedu Excavations 1989-92, Roman Maps and the Concept of Indian Gems and The Indo-Pacific Bead Story and the Final Report.


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The Latin American Survey

I have made two fairly extensive Research Tours to Mexico. The information from this work is spread throughout this site. [See Tecali: The Other Precious Stone, Beads Brought by the Spanish and The Spanish Influence on Traditional Beadmaking in America.]

I hope eventually to make an extensive survey in one or more phases of all of Central and South America. This is some time in the future, but if anyone reading this would like to help in any way, they are most welcome. How could you help? Would you like to go along? Do you have a car? I don't drive and there are places that can only be reached by car. Do you know of important depositories of beads I could study? Do you know of any current beadmakers? Do you live in Central or South America? Can I stay with you? Do you want to make a donation or grant? What else would be handy? E-mail me.

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The Capitals of North India: Their Bead Story

India is truly "Beadmaker to the World." It is also an enormous place, a subcontinent. Every fifth person on Earth is an Indian. If you know me, you know I have spent a lot of time there.

In early 1999 John Anthony, Alok Kumar Kanungo and I used the Guido Award from the Bead Study Trust to travel to Uttar Pradesh, India to examine beads from early sites. Several were not accessible, but we spent five days examining beads from Kausambi, one of the more important ancient capitals, and visiting the site. We were surprised at the amount of hither-to-unreported Western (mostly Roman in date) beads there. We were also stumped by why the beads at the public museum (which had been bought on the antiquities market) seemed so much more elaborate than those at the University (which were excavated).

In addition, while in India I was able to examine beads from some other related sites, including those in Bangladesh and Orissa. We have some interesting assemblages there. It is likely that one or more of the sites in Orissa will be excavated soon, with me helping on the beads.


January 1997

To the Bead Study Trust for a Guido Award to be given to John Anthony, Alok Kumar Kanungo and myself to help with the expenses of the Beads of the North Indian Capitals project. I am especially pleased because this is in the first group of Guido Awards to be granted. Margaret Guido, author of The Glass Beads of the Prehistoric and Roman Periods in Britain and Ireland and the recent Glass Beads of Anglo-Saxon England, was a founding trustee of the Bead Study Trust.


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Beads Along the American Frontier

Beads played an important role in the spread of European influence throughout the Americas. The "Frontier" is a concept of the settlers. To them, it shrank in size and importance over 400 years. Columbus "opened" the Frontier when he stumbled into America. He knew something about beads and had several types with him to give away from the first day.

Several years ago I published a historical work on this topic. Beads and the Discovery of the New World. I also gained recognition for my paper, The Beads that Did Not Buy Manhattan Island. Both may be purchased in the Beads in the Americas section of the bookstore.

This project seeks to identify the beads actually used in the American trade and trace their internal trade and uses. At the outset, it was necessary to identify those that have gained an unearned cachet in the modern trade (Lewis and Clark Bead, French Ambassador Bead, etc.) Many of the stories of these beads are Myths and Misnamed Beads.

I hope to publish what I have been learning in a book. To date, the information has been used as a lecture and in other publications, including pages on The Bead Site.


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The Oldest Beads In America

The oldest assemblage comes from the Lindenmeier site in Colorado, about 11,500 years old. It is roughly the same age as Zawi Chemi Shanidar and Shanidar Cave, Iraq, whose beads I studied earlier. In addition, I researched a two-part study on the oldest beads in India, dating to the Upper Paleolithic (the oldest were about 20,000 years old) and the Mesolithic (the oldest were from 8000 to 5000 years old).

I have examined the Lindenmeier beads in the Denver Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution. An interesting variety of raw materials was used for them. Short, repetitive, incisions were the only decorative device.

The story is published in Margaretologist 10(1), the journal of the Center for Bead Research. A gallery of these beads is available here.


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Beads and the African-American Experience

Beads were very important to Africans, especially in West Africa,home of many of the slaves for the mansions and plantations of the Americas. They remained meaningful to the slaves and are still highly regarded by their descendants.

I am piecing this story together from various sources. I have made three trips to West Africa, resulting in a book and other data. I am examining and collecting information on plantations, shipwrecks (see Margaretologist 8(1), issue 19) and oral history.

An important use of beads in this story is their role in Voodoo. Despite its misuse for decades in Haiti and the notion that Voodoo is some sort of devil worship, it is a benign nature religion. Voodoo is still practiced in some parts of West Africa. American Voodoo and its "sister religions" (Santeria, Macumba, Xango, etc.) are New World adaptations of various religions in different parts of Africa. I visited the center of Voodoo in Ouidha, Benin, in early 2001.

These religions were not perfectly translated to the Americas for several reasons. One is the harsh treatment of the slaves themselves. Another is the breaking up of African communities. Slave owners preferred to do this to lessen the possibility of a unified people revolting.

Finally, we must remember that the slaves were the strong, that is, the young, and in every oral society the tenants of religious, social and other traditions are understood by the old. The young learn these things only as they mature. Thus, the religious rites and canons were only imperfectly brought into the New World.

Although slavery is an ancient institution, slavery in ancient times tended (not always) to be less brutal than it was when Africa was raped for cheap labor on cotton, tobacco and sugarcane plantations. That institution crippled one continent and poisoned two others; the effects still echo to this day.

Beads were used to enslave people; there is no doubt about it. However, in the hands of African-Americans they were mostly objects of solace and healing to keep alive the traditions of those sinned against.


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