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Beads in the News: Archives 4

8 August 1998 to 15 July 1999

Posted 15 July 1999. Sources: Reuters, The Australian, CNNin,

A Third of a Million Beads

It might well be a record of some sort. When Sophie Rhys-Jones married Edward, newly named Earl of Wessex and Severn Viscount, her dress was decorated with 325,000 "cut glass and pearl beads." Let's hope they were Swarovski crystals and real pearls.

A Billion Dollars for an Abacus?

When I caught the headline I thought that this was going to definitely beat the old record for the price of a bead. But a billion? With a B? Turns out DoubleClick paid a billion dollars for the disk drive maker, Abacus. Sorry, Fokls.

Ancient Shell Beads from Australia

In 1990 Kate Morse found a group (the press release always calls them "a string," though there was no string) of shell beads in a cave when surveying for her PhD work. They were determined to be 32,000 years old, a quite advanced age for the continent. They have recently been placed in the new Aboriginal Gallery of the West Australia Museum. The head of anthropology, Moya Smith, remarked that the gallery was attempting to "[make] the past more human" and that such beads, still being made today, illustrated the continuity of human behavior.

Beads Help Rewrite Ethiopian-Eritrean History

Beads are among the cultural objects recently excavated near Asmara, Eritrea, dating to around 500 to 600 BC. Their importance lies in the fact that the "reigning paradigm" is that the Axumite Kingdom (ca. 100 to 900 AD), based in northern Ethiopia, brought civilization to what is now the newly-independent Red Sea state. Among the finds were a number of objects that must have been locally made, including an unusual three-necked jug, whose use is not yet understood. The complex culture of Eritrea at such an early date forces the rewriting of the history of this part of Africa.

Center for the Study of Beadwork Closes

The Center for the Study of Beadwork, which Alice Scherer has been operating in Portland OR since 1989, is closing or will be closing. More details are not avail at press time. Stay tuned.

Posted 23 October. Sources: PR Newswire, CNNin, AP, Har-Tass

Dug-up Beads: Looting, Slaves as Traders, The Czar's Children

Three interesting current stories about beads in archaeology

Indonesian officials have reported an alarming rise in the desecration of Chinese graves at a peaceful mountain town near Jakarta. The recent troubles in Indonesia have stirred up anti-Chinese sentiment. While they account for only 4% of the country's population, they control much of the wealth. The looting has been going on near Bogor, the rainiest city on Earth. One of the targets of the looting is jewelry, no doubt to hit the international antiques market soon.

A team of archaeologists from William and Mary College has excavated some caches at Wilton Plantation, along the St. James River. Among the things they found are dishes, toys and "earth-colored beads." The caches were apparently small storehouses of slaves of the plantation. The slaves augmented their meager rations by fishing and petty trading. Beads, of course, were one of their trade goods.

Alexander Avdonin has been looking for the missing children of Czar Nichols II. He has recently discovered a "bonfire site," explored in the 1920s by Nikoli Sokolov. No human skeletons were found but there were bullets and rifle cartridges. There were also "a number of beads" and they may well have belonged to the Czar's family as they were (at least reportedly) made of topaz. The Czar and other members of the family (including Anastasia) were recently buried in Moscow.

Streisand as "Bride of the Year." Another feather in the singer's hat is the selection of her as "Standout Bride of the Year" by the bridal shop chain, David's Bridal, at a recent manager's meeting. The prize was awarded because of the dress the People-lover wore, designed by Donna Karan. I doubt it was the 15-foot veil on the dress. It's my guess the "crystal-beaded gown" won her the accolade.

Swarovski's Fashions CNN Style Correspondent, Elsa Klensch recently ran a feature on Rosemane Le Gallais, who designs for the famous Austrian Cut Crystal maker. She designs jewelry, bags, scarves, chokers, earrings, bracelets and rings with "a touch of mystery and intrigue." Most of the items are "showered with a cascade of crystals that create movement." Pearls are being added to her repertoire.

Scoreboard: Prayer Beads Several months ago I decided not to document every occurrence of prayer beads in Beads in the News unless there was a special reason to do so. I have been keeping track of them when they show up (in actual news items or footage, not on religious TV channels). At first I thought I would be counting only Catholic rosaries. Soon Muslim prayer strands were running neck-to-neck. Even Buddhist prayer beads have a decent showing, though they tend to be more concentrated when there is news of the Dalai Lama or Thai monks, for example. The results thus far (I forgot when I started this):

Catholic Rosaries

Muslim Prayer Beads

Buddhist Prayer Beads




Posted 5 September 1998 -- Sources: AP, Xinhua, CBS News, PRNewswire and CNNin

The Oldest Beads? The question of the oldest beads is still in dispute (see this page), but a news item caught my attention a few weeks ago. Before reporting it, I wanted to get it straight, so I contacted the author and when he returned from Nairobi he sent me his paper.

The oldest confirmed beads are made of ostrich eggshell and have been found in the Enkapune Ya Muto rock shelter in the Rift Valley of Kenya. They have been dated to 37,000 to 39,900 years ago. Thirteen complete beads, twelve preforms and 593 shell fragments were found. It is clear from the illustrations that each bead was made individually, not by the heishi technique.

The excavator, StanleyAmbrose of U.I. Urbana, has pointed out the important cultural meaning of beads to the !Kung San. He believes the earliest beads could have played a similar role: "One may further speculate that if ostrich eggshell beads reflect an enhanced symbolic system of socially mediated risk-minimization and social solidarity, this may have facilitated population increase in Africa, the spread of modern humans out of Africa and the replacement of archaic human populations in Eurasia." Wow! All because of a little bead!

Man Sentenced to 111 Years for Stealing Beads. A judge in Mumbai (Bombay, India) ordered an unhappy taxi driver to spend three years in jail for each of the 37 chain-snatchings he has committed. The prize was referred to as "gold-an-black bead necklaces" on the newswire, but we know what these are (see here). They are mangalsutras, the necklaces worn by North Indian women, given to them on their wedding day by their groom. "Chain-snatching" is a common Indian petty crime, and the man "can - and almost certainly will - appeal."

Beads at an Unusual Wedding. The new constitution of South Africa is the first in the world to grant full rights regardless of sexual orientation. In a test of this law, a gay marriage has taken place. The wire began its report with these words: "The groom wore a gold suit to Saturday's wedding reception. The bride wore a white satin dress, a strand of pearls adorning his neck." Some things never change.

Business: Nothing Wasted. When the bottom fell out of the emu market Ina Quintero, who had paid $4,000 for a pair in 1985 (chicks now go for $0.15 each), had an idea. She got to looking at the attractive avocado-colored eggs, decorated one with "ribbons, paint, beads, lace and satin" and turned it into a jewelry holder. She sells them, along with similar picture frames and candy boxes, at a craft store in Lubbock, Texas and can't keep up with the demand.

Business: Back-to-School. Style-conscious young girls are grabbing "accordion" headbands. They are made of flexible plastic and decorated with flowers, butterflies, sparkles and - can you see it coming - beads.

Sports: Hold on to Those Beads. In an interview with CBS's Paula Zahn, tennis wiz Venus Williams was asked what her goal was this year. Instead, she answered that "my goal last year was not to lose any beads." Readers of Beads in the News know that she failed.

Travel: Beads in a New Museum. The Hemdu Museum in Ningpo, China has recently opened. It features materials some 7,000 years ago, representing the earliest Neolithic culture in the Eastern Coastal region. These people cultivated rice, built wooden structures, painted pottery and made textiles. This is also the earliest date I know for lacquerware (though there may be earlier examples). And, of course, there were beads made of jade, bone and teeth.

Posted 8 August 1998 -- Sources: AP, African News Service, Reuters, The Nation (Nairobi), and CNNin

The Other Destruction in Nairobi: Bead Market. On 26 July, police destroyed the downtown tourist market, an important outlet for beads, jewelry and other crafts. The overnight destruction was done without the City Council giving the hundreds of stall owners the option to buy the land. The tearing-down was illegal, as there was a court order to stay the demolishment until the case was heard on 23 September. It is believed corrupt officials sold it to developers to erect a mosque and a parking lot. The market had been operating since 1980.

African Author and Beads. The beloved Lady Susan Wood has released her latest book of short stories entitled A String of Beads. She ads another "bead title" to her works, which include her memoir A Fly in Amber. Lady Susan was born in a mud hut in a village near Kisangnani, the Congo Republic. Her father, Alex Buxton, was an English missionary, who later went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to establish a mission and translate Amharic holy writ into English. He was a friend of Haile Selassie. Lady Susan went to Kenya in 1947 and became an activist for bringing down the color bar and colonization. She was a leading member of the Capricorn African Society, dedicated to racial harmony.

Brothers, Sisters and the Tie that Binds: Electronic Rakhis. The web site of one of India's leading newspaper groups, The Indian Express ( is offering electronic rakhis this year. A rakhi is a small ornament that women tie onto the wrists of their brothers or other men, while giving them a little candy and perfuming them with incense and camphor. In turn, the men present their sisters with a gift, often a piece of cloth suitable to make into a blouse. The practice is centuries old, probably originating among the strong Rajput women. Akbar the Great adopted it, using precious jewels. Modern rakhis are mostly plastic, made in private homes in a wide variety of designs. The custom symbolizes the relationship between men and women. I am not sure when Rakhi Bandhan (the day for the celebration) is, but as of now, you can send an electronic rakhi through the web site.

Beads Wow the Fashion World. The fall fashion walkways are full of beads again (also furs and feathers, angering some). They are also full of gimmicks. A few highlights: Jean-Paul Gaultier called his show "Ghosts of the Past," with models dressed like famous women. The Josephine Baker look-alike wore a "chiffon bra and narrow skirt speckled with tiny jewels." John Gallino's show at Christian Dior's had a history theme: "In chugged a locomotive and out popped the models." Naomi Campbell as Pocohontas wore "a beaded squaw dress and a bone necklace." (Someone should tell Gallino that Pocohantas wore shell beads, not bone ones.) Alexander McQueen at Givenchy featured "a mink coat over a silver beaded go-go number," and "a rib-crushing jacket of gold beads and tassels," while the Italian designer Valentino offered a "pearl-encrusted pale chiffon dress."


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