It’s taken me far too long, but I have finally decided to engage my craftier side and delve into beading and beadwork.
Yup, you read that correctly. I am stepping into the world of beading.
Honestly, I was mostly there already – it’s not that big of a leap. I weave, knit, crochet, etc., and beading is taking that and adding beads and more fun techniques, which can only mean wonderful things! My ultimate goal is to be able to make a dragon out of beads. Because who wouldn’t want to do that?
Part of this endeavor is to understand the practicalities of actually using beads. It’s funny, because when archaeologists look at beads, they say a site might have manufactured them due to high numbers of unusable beads – broken ones, melted ones, ones with incomplete perforations. It wasn’t until 2004, nearly 80 years after beads became a significant topic in archaeology, that Dr. Alok Kanungo pointed out the fatal flaw in that logic: unfinished or unusable beads often get mixed with with usable ones and can be found wherever beads are strung, not just where they were made.
I remember reading this in 2010 and thinking, “Of course, that makes perfect sense.”
And now, in 2014, it took all of 20 minutes of working with seed beads to realize how obvious this truth is.
Moral of that story: if a scholar is studying a human activity, the best way to understand that activity is to do it, so long as it fits within legal, humane, ethical parameters.
So that’s one reason. Another positively huge reason is to bridge the gap between archaeological studies of beads and modern craftspeople who use beads. Dialog is a wonderful thing for both sides, and it’s surprising how little we scholars know about the beading world. I would also love to spread knowledge about past uses of beads to the wider public, for any who are interested. That’s kind of why I have this blog.
And since I’m an archaeologist who is getting into beading, I’ve decided to set some parameters for my work. My goal is to use beads that are the same or similar styles to those used in ancient times, but in new, modern ways. As much as I love every bead there ever was, I like the idea of engaging with styles that have been in continuous use for 3000 years or more.
Having started my studies with glass beads, I have a particular fondness for them. But the first beads we know of were made of shell and found at cave sites dating to between 150-175,000 years ago. So some of these bead styles we still use today were created 150,000 years ago.
And I think that’s amazing.
I’ve also found some really wonderful bead styles in the archaeological record. The Scottish mosaic beads I posted about earlier are only one of many, many types I absolutely love. And I want to connect my art to the art of the people who created these beads.
However, I will never use beads that were dug up from an archaeological site, and I will never use beads taken from a grave. I say this because as an archaeologist, I am confronted every day with issues in my research because someone went to Ban Chiang, dug up graves dating to 500 AD, took only the beads and the gold, and sold it to the highest bidder. This happens all the time, and I will avoid the practice as much as I am able. Given how difficult it is to figure out contexts of beads when they’re in the archaeological record, it will get fairly complicated, but I can at least try.
So that’s it. A new segment to the blog with new beading projects and me figuring out how to do all this. If anyone reading this has suggestions for what I should make or how I can improve or whatever, please leave them in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.
Right, I’ve droned on long enough – let’s get started!