Interest in beads was part of the fascination of antiquities in the 19th century. The first major controversy about them in academic publications was "The Great Chevron Debate."
Many thought chevrons so wonderful in execution that they had to have been products of "the ancients." Depending upon where one stood, "the ancients" might be Phoenicians, Romans, Late Dynastic or Early Islamic Egyptians. In truth, the beads were mostly made in Venice and only since about 1480. The debate accounts for much of the bead literature of the second half of that century.
At the end of the 19th century George P. Rouffaer published an astonishingly long "paper" in the Dutch journal now known as BKI. Its title can be loosely translated as, "From Whence Come the Mysterious Mutisalah (Aggrey Beads) of the Timor Group, What Is Their Origin?" -- 264 pages of unreformed Dutch, with generous dollops of German, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, as he quotes in extenso from others.
It's hard to find this paper, not because major libraries have not subscribed to the journal since its beginning in 1850. No, rather Vol. 50 (1899) has been stolen. At least it has been taken away from the Tozzer at Harvard, the central library of the University of Chicago and the Smithsonian.
[Hey, you out there -- if you have one of these volumes or know someone who does, photocopy what you want and return the bound copy. I'll bet there'll be no questions asked.] But I bet you can't copy it cheaper than the librarian who volunteered to do it for me over his lunch hour in Jakarta - $US 3.50 - bound! (soft, but durable).
Getting back to our history, there were four men (three English, one a Swede) and a German woman especially interested in beads in the 1920s and 1930s. By the late 1930s there was some solid information available in academic journals and even a book covering beads in the Americas. They are the first members of the Bead Researchers Hall of Fame.
The long, lingering, fatal illness of the most advanced of these (Horace C. Beck) put him out of commission by 1938. Then came the war, the cold war and decolonization. The world was suddenly broken up. A new generation of scholars educated in and working in former colonies became interested in beads.
The post-war period saw scores of individual projects on beads (due in part to the pressure to specialize in academia), but soon most investigators turned their attention elsewhere and little was built in the way of a lasting structure. Only W.G.N. van der Sleen and Alastair Lamb even tried to work toward a global history of beads.
Around 1975 several forces began to converge. Interest in beads by professionals and non-professionals reached critical mass. In a decade, the Bead Study Trust (based in England), the Center for Bead Research (from 1979-1984 named the Bead Research Bureau), the Society of Bead Researchers and the Bead Museum (now in Glendale AZ, USA) were all operating.
Since 1985 there have been several bead conferences or conventions, two sponsored by the Rochester Museum and Science Center, several by the Center for Bead Research and Recursos de Santa Fe, and three by two bead societies.
In the last quarter of this century there has been a revolution in bead studies. I am part of that revolution. Much of my work is pioneering. I consider it important because it is not about beads -- it is about people.
I see as part of my mission educating a cadre of professional (and amateur) bead researchers. They don't have to devote their whole lives to beads. However, they should be competent to analyze beads at their archaeological site, identify beads worn in a village in their field study area, curate a bead collection in a museum, or be able to evaluate the validity of published or spoken information.
This is the purpose of the CBR Bead Identification Workshops.
The next chapter of the history of bead research is being written on-line. With the capabilities of the Web, the global explosion in the knowledge of and concern for beads is increasing quickly. That is why I am here and that is why the Center for Bead Research is here, and it would be great if that were why you are here, too.
The focus of bead studies is people. Beads do not fall from the sky. People make beads, trade them, use them and ultimately dispose of them. For each bead we study, these four stages must be considered in detail.
For example, when we want to know the origin of a bead it is not sufficient to have an answer like, "This bead is from _______." (Fill in the blank -- Europe, Africa, India, China or wherever.) Rather we must ask meaningful questions:
What is the source of the raw material?
How does one answer all these questions? Clearly an interdisciplinary approach is necessary, taking into account data, theories and methodologies developed in archaeology, ethnography, history, geography, linguistics, mineralogy, botany, zoology, malacology, paleontology and several materials sciences, especially ceramics and metallurgy. The more languages you command the better.
The methodology is to first collect the data. The "Center" in the Center for Bead Research indicates that function. We have the world's largest library on the topic; the most universal, well-documented bead study collection; the largest global collection of bead sample cards; and the largest photographic archives of living beadmakers and scientific collections around the world.
We also have major parallel collections, an excellent map archive and a small but growing and useful laboratory.
How did this all come together? I have been working on beads for more twenty years. I have been around the globe twelve times. For most of my adult life I have lived outside my native USA. I have researched in hundreds of institutions and documented over a hundred bead industries, large and small, old and new.
I have been employed on excavations; climbed mountains, forded rivers and swung out over a deep chasm on a rope bridge to see the Healer's beads. I do nothing else (professionally).
Back to the methodology. Once data is gathered, problems must be identified, hypotheses formed and means for testing them proposed. The hypotheses must be tested and theory built. Applying the scientific method to study beads on a global basis with a humanistic bias are the keys to my work.
This activity has produced: nearly two dozen monographs, two outside books and hundreds of articles in professional and popular journals around the world. The discipline of a biannual newsletter-cum-journal, the Margaretologist (margarite is Greek and Latin for pearl and by extension, bead) forces me to summarize my work every six months.
In addition, I have lectured or consulted at institutions as varied as the Smithsonian, Harvard and Brown, the Asian Art Museum and the Denver Museum of Natural History. Abroad I have worked with museums, universities and professional societies in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia (both East and West), Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, all over India, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Iran, Mexico, Germany, France, the UK and Holland.
I have devised a 24-hour workshop series to bring participants up to a high standard of bead knowledge. This format is adaptable. It has been tailored to professionals in Southeast Asia for SPAFA in Malaysia. If you are interested in having me work with your institution, see Lectures, Workshops, The CBR and Museums and The CBR and Universities.
Networking is important. I founded the Society of Bead Researchers, and until recently wrote a regular column for the Bead Study Trust's Newsletter. I am an Honorary Researcher at the Philippine National Museum, direct the biannual Bead Expo conferences, administer the Horace C. Beck Fund and am a charter member of five bead societies. Networking is all over The Bead Site.
As a bead researcher, I am naturally self-taught. (I have a master's and attended Deccan College, Pune, India for studies in archaeology.) My first audience was the vanguard of the American boom in bead collecting and designing (there are well over 100 bead societies and guilds in the US now, and a dozen elsewhere).
My heart has always been in pure research. I am excited learning. When I wrote the first version of this page (April 1996) I was still telling everyone how thrilled I was figuring out what year 8-deer Tiger Claw conquered the Mexican town of Tecali.
I shook the "bead world" in 1987 with my regular column for Ornament entitled, "The Endangered Bead." It exposed the ethical problems of buying looted antiquities. For years, collectors and dealers growled at me about this, but now the ethics of bead collecting is a hot topic among "bead people."
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