A necklace with ancient eye beads


Beads have always traveled and the history of ancient trade can often be documented by the finding of beads. This is the story of such travel and trade.


The original strand

When we saw this strand it was obvious that these beads were genuinely old but we have not seen such beads from Indonesian sources nor in books, so we bought them simply because they were intriguing and irresistible.

I have been reading research on trade in the area between China and the Mediterranean and I thought maybe this was how these beads arrived in Indonesia, but no, a friend of ours bought them when he was making the Hadj (the pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim needs to make at least once in their life). While there, he met a pilgrim from Egypt who had bought this strand of old eye beads to trade to fund his trip. This trading in beads is what has been happening for millennia.

Bead research is still in its early days. In previous times beads have been looked upon by researchers as insignificant. Now we know that as they are almost the earliest decorations that humans used and are usually of durable materials, so they give archaeologists evidence of trade and contact between different peoples and insights into their culture. An example of this is the recent report of a discovery of a Baltic amber bead in the Iberian peninsular from a site that is dated 3600 BC.

 Once we arrived home I began to look on the internet and in the library. I found that there are very similar eye beads illustrated in a chapter in Magical Ancient Beads where Maud Spaer dates them as being from Egypt. Ptolemaic era, possibly as early as 600 BC. 

This gave me a lead, and subsequently, I found two examples in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York with beads that closely resemble our strand.


 Late Ptolemaic Beads (3rd to 6th cent BC) from the Met  10.130.3041.

And then this strand below, sold by Christie's in 2008, was dated by them between 600 BC and 400 AD.


This other strand from the Met of very similar beads. described as 1st to 4th-century Roman Egyptian beads.


String of 27 beads 1st-4th cent Roman Egypt.

Metropolitan Museum access No.10.130.3033

Beautiful as they are with the ravages of time, our beads needed to be combined with other old beads to enhance their beauty and make them into wearable necklaces.  This is what Veronica did:


If you look along the necklace from the central fine old Balinese wirework bead there are Chinese glass imitation coral beads, possibly 18th - 19th century. In the strand on one side is a translucent hexagonal bicone and on the other an opaque octagonal bead, both 1st millennia Java. To more old Balinese wirework beads, dark blue/green beads where the oxidized glass has been removed. The turquoise blue beads are Chinese, said to be from the Ming period, and have been found through excavation. 

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