Indo-Pacific beads

The term “Indo-Pacific” was coined by Peter Francis Jr., who defined them as small, drawn, monochrome, glass beads.  This is almost identical to the definition of seed beads (small, monochrome, glass beads), with the very important distinction that Indo-Pacific beads are drawn, whereas seed beads are sometimes coiled beads. Another name given these beads is Trade Wind Beads as they spread through South East Asia on the wind.


A selection if Indo-Pacific beads showing some of the colors found. The orange beads are called Mutisalah, the dark blue and translucent green are probably of Javanese or Sumatran manufacture. The red beads are wound and so probably originate in China. These are not strictly defined as Indo-Pacific but the debate continues.

Francis was involved in archeological research in Arkimedu (now Pondicherry) where the Indo-Pacific beads were made as early as 300 BC. Bead making ceased in Arkimedu about 200 AD, by which time other centers had established manufacturing beads, namely Mantai in Sri Lanka (1st to 10th cent), Klong Thom, Southern Thailand (2nd to 6th cent), Oc-eo, Vietnam (2nd to 7th cent)

We can now sketch a tentative historic reconstruction of the industry. It
began in Arikamedu, which probably held a monopoly for some time. When Arikamedu was abandoned in the 3rd century A.D, bead makers went to Oc-eo and Mantai.  Work stopped at Oc-eo in the 7th century, and bead makers Mantai made Indo-Pacific beads until invaded in the 10th century.
Carswell suggested that Mantai refugees then went to Nagapattinam, the chief port of the south Indian Chola dynasty which was and a likely production for a few centuries. J. Lavanaha said in 1593 that there is a record of these beads were taken to East Africa  from Nagapattinam by the Portuguese. Subsequent events, particularly European domination, were most likely responsible for the destruction of the industry in Southeast Asia,

By the 7th century Indo-Pacific beads were being made in Palembang, Sumatra, possibly by Indian refugees also, or using techniques brought by them. At this point of time the archeology is still under-explored.

Old Indo-Pacific beads still circulate in South East Asia and since they were manufactured in several places dating them can be difficult. In Indonesia beads are found in funerary sites.

It is speculated that bead manufacture ceased somewhere around the 12th century as Indo-Pacific beads are rarely found in graves later than that. Many of the later beads are wound beads, believed to have originated in China.

Bead manufacture has recommenced in many places now, not least Indonesia, China and India so it is best when looking at them to divide them into categories of new and old. An old bead will have signs of wear, sometimes they are oxidized and one may see evidence of them having been in the ground. 

This necklace demonstrates the variable size seen, ranging from less than 1 mm up to 3 mm. Green is an unusual color for Indo-Pacific beads. This is No. 129 in my catalog.

This strand of blue beads, some opaque and some translucent show many of the signs of age, namely oxidation of the surface from long burial and wear from being worn.

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