The Oldest Stone Bead Industry
Surprisingly, there were almost no stone beads during the Stone Ages. People couldn't work hard stones and had to use softer materials. It wasn't until about 5000 B.C. that hard stones such as agates were first made into beads. That breakthrough took place in what is now Pakistan, until 1947 part of India.
By 2500 B.C. this region was populated by highly sophisticated people whom we call the Harappan or Indus Valley Civilization. They were exporting these gem minerals beads to Mesopotamia, the Levant and Egypt. The ancient center of agate beadmaking is close to the modern center, Cambay in Gujarat state. Over the years, the beadmaking centers have changed, but the source for agates and carnelians has apparently always been in the old riverbeds of the lower Narmada River.
Not only has the source of the stones remained the same, but the way in which they were turned into beads has changed very little over 4000 years. In this century, electricity has been added to a few steps (grinding and polishing). The last important technological change before that was the introduction of the double-tipped diamond drill (even today powered by a hand-driven bow drill), a discovery made over 2000 years ago.
Double-tipped diamond drills 2000 years ago? It reminds us that India was once the major supplier of diamonds to the world and that diamonds were used industrially before they were used in jewelry. Even today, India cuts more diamonds by carat than any other country in the world. Though the diamonds are mostly imports, the cutting is going on in the same region where stone beads have been produced for 4500 years.
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