Buddha Beads. Natural crystal and glass hexagonal bicones.

There is a kind of bead for which we have coined the term Buddha bead. The technical description of these beads is that they are hexagonal bicones, the shape of the bead replicating a natural quartz crystal. We chose to call them Buddha beads because they come from a time of early Buddhist expansion into what now is Indonesia in the era 200 BC to 500 AD

A necklace of translucent green Buddha beads with gold beads assembled by Veronica.

In 1992 we were shown a strand of such beads when we visited a dealer in Jogjakarta. He told us that they were found in the Dieng plateau. I don't remember why we did not buy them, most probably because they were too expensive and at that time we didn't know much. However, Veronica could not forget them and ever since we have kept our eyes and ears open to find more.

They are uncommon they do come our way and once a tukang antik knows of our interest he uses his inside knowledge to source them. A disconcerting thing in this search is that although they are rare when a trader has one bead, he often has more. I believe that they have come from a burial site or a temple cache.

This picture is of a recent purchase of a strand of beads. They are translucent green but as a result of long inhumation the soil has penetrated the beads.

Pale green, translucent Buddha beads. The seller has polished them but cannot disguise the effects of their long inhumation.

Originally beads such as these were made from natural crystals that were drilled in the Indian bead manufacturing sites which have been dated to the first millennium BC and were then traded along with the Indian trade networks that extended from the Mediterranean to the far east.

The technology for drilling these crystal beads, developed in India is incredibly complex and difficult using a hand drill and grinding paste. As a result, they would most probably have been both rare and expensive, even at the time of their production. There is evidence of such bead making later in the 2nd century BC from sites in what now is Thailand, possibly by Indian craftsmen who migrated or were seconded.

We have two examples of these crystals, both found in Java, which Veronica has incorporated into her necklaces. We date these as probably first millennia AD.

Long crystal (10 cm)

Catalog No.22


Rock crystal hexagonal bicone incorporated into a necklace.

Catalogue No 44  in Historic Beads website

There is later evidence of glass replicas of these precious beads being made in the Cambodian and Thai bead making sites in about 200 AD. Glover mentions that a number of the translucent glass beads at Ban Don Ta Phet were found with cubic, bi-pyramidal, square prismatic or hexagonal prismatic shapes imitating the forms of natural mineral crystals, especially the famous beryl crystals of South India.There is also evidence of the translucent blue and green hexagonal bi-cones being made in Java as a bi-product of the Indo-Pacific bead bead making. These have been found in the megalithic stone grave sites discovered in Java, Sumatra and, Kalimantan.

Even more unusual are beads of this type made from black or opaque glass, but in Java, such beads have been uncovered. I do not have much detail about the sources of these discoveries as the published archeology is scanty.

Bronson has suggested that the hexagonal bicones could have been made at Khlong Thom (Bronson, B. 1986. Glass and beads at Khuan Lukpad, Southern Thailand. Southeast Asian Archaeology 1986: 213–
29 pp222).

What archaeological evidence there is suggests a broad distribution for the making of hexagonal bicone beads, and it is very possible that there were multiple production centers. (Francis, P. Jr. 2002. Asia’s Maritime Bead Trade. 300 B.C. to the Present. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press pp 138-139)

A bead from Museum Pusat, Jakarta. 2.6 cm long

This bead in the collection of the Museum Pusat is said to be of Han dynasty (Chinese 206 BC-220AD). It would have been traded into Java by the nomadic seafarers of that time. Its place of manufacture is still being researched but there is evidence that these beads may have been made in Khao Sam Kaeo, Thailand, however, the research is still in its early days.





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