There’s a potential issue with a lot of the data: certain scholars talk a lot about mutisalah beads, but seem to define them in different ways.  One say mutisalah are opaque brownish-red OR opaque orange beads (two different colors) that are used among modern ethnic communities in Timor and Flores in Indonesia (leading to questions of whether we can really use modern classifications of an artifact for objects that are 1000-2000 years old).  They can be wound or drawn (two different styles of manufacture).

Another scholar says mutisalah is simply a cover term for heirloom beads, which happen to be small and either opaque red or opaque orange.  He divides them into three subtypes: mutitanah, mutibata, and mutiraja.  Mutitanah (earth beads) are opaque red beads (like the color of the earth).  Mutibata (brick beads) are opaque orange (like bricks).  Mutiraja (king’s beads) can be opaque orange or opaque red, but are supposedly reserved for the elite.

Generally, scholars class mutisalah as Indo-Pacific beads, which they define as small, drawn, monochrome glass beads.  But with these subdivisions, only mutitanah and mutibata are Indo-Pacific beads, whereas mutiraja are actually Chinese coil beads.  So if someone says a site has mutisalah beads, they could mean any of these categories.  That covers multiple colors, multiple manufacture techniques, and (according to some) multiple different origins of the beads (or at least the technology used to create them).  So should we really be talking about them as a single category?  Can we really be using the term mutisalah to describe beads from an archaeological context?


About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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One Response to Mutisalah

  1. Pingback: Excavating My Own Research | Stringing the Past

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