The bottom line is this: if you are interested in the history of glass beads, glass beads in Europe or of this period, you will want this book. This is especially true if you do not read German or do not have access to recent German publications covering this period.
Margaret (Peggy) Guido was a pioneer in the study of beads in the UK Her work on beads in Britain and Ireland during the Roman Period (1978) has become a classic and a touchstone of further bead research of this time and the region. When she passed away in 1994 she left an unfinished manuscript that was to extend her research into the first few centuries of the post-Roman period.
Martin Welsh has done everyone a great service by editing Guido's material, preparing introductory and final chapters to the text and enlisting the help of Julian Henderson and Justine Bayley, two prominent students of glass, to contribute essays on the technological aspects of glass beads.
In the last few decades there has been increased interest in both the archaeology of the Anglo-Saxon period and in beads. This is the first book that brings that information together. The Introduction by Martin Welch summarizes these two converging forces very well.
The first 96 pages of the book and the 8 color plates (I snitched an example above) will be of most interest to most readers. This section includes the contributions by Welch, Henderson and Bayley, as well as chapters describing the beads, divided by color or decorative techniques. These descriptions are Guido's and not everyone will be happy with some of her terminology, but one must start somewhere.
Following the text, there are 32 maps showing the find-spots of each of the major (generally diagnostic) bead types. This is a most admirable undertaking, though one might wish for slightly more details, such as more attention paid to rivers and perhaps some indication of where major ports were located.
It is not certain how many of these beads were made in England. No evidence for beadmaking in this period has been found there, though there is evidence in Ireland and Europe. Some of the beads are in the Mediterranean tradition, but many resemble contemporary beads from Central Europe.
The general reader should be forewarned, however, that the bulk of the book (pp. 131 to 344) consists of the "schedules." These have dates, provenience and publication references on each bead in her data bank. This information is critical, but will be of little use to most readers (see below: "Finally"). The last part of the book is an extensive bibliography that can serve as a guide to the study of these beads not only in England but on the Continent as well.
A minor criticism of this book is that the eight color plates are placed in the middle of the schedules. I don't know how this decision was made. It makes them harder to find when one wants to see what a bead looks like and a more logical place would have been in the front section.
Finally, I'd like to address a problem that is not the fault of anyone associated with this book. It is wider than that.
Archaeology (and ultimately all sciences) is supported directly or indirectly by the public. A large segment of the public has an interest in archaeology or archaeological topics (such as beads). They are entitled to good works on these subjects, not regurgitated second- or third-hand information dished out by self-styled "experts."
The first section of this book is exactly what the public wants. However, the schedules will bore the average reader, serving no more use than padding the book and the price ($US 90). It may well be argued that the core audience for the book is academic, rather than the public and in this case the schedules serve useful functions.
But I wonder if there is not another way to do this. Can't the schedules be presented in another format that would be cheaper, allowing for a reduction in price of a book with only the texts, maps, color plate and relevant references?
The schedules and its references could then be presented in some other media. The problem is: which one? No one knows how long microfiche, microfilm, floppy discs or CDs are going to be around. These technologies are changing very fast and a book is more permanent than they are.
I wonder if the Internet might not be the best alternative. It will be around in some form for a long time, and as it evolves, the schedules could evolve with it. Additionally, as new information (new sites, new parallels) come to light the schedules could be updated. This might be a solution.
~ Reviewed by Pete Francis
Margaret Guido, edited by Martin Walsh 1999 The Glass Beads of Anglo-Saxon England c. AD 400-700: A Preliminary Visual Classification of the More Definitive and Diagnostic Types. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquarians of London, No. 58. The Boydell Press for the Society of Antiquarians of London, Woodbridge (UK) and Rochester (NY). 361 pp. + 8 color plates. Hardback $90 (Limited time only $67.50 if you buy it here)
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