Of Manufacture and Men

The two largest ideas I’ve had about glass bead manufacture over the past week are fairly related, or at least, they might be if I could articulate them better.  Both work off of the idea that glass and bead manufacture are two very different crafts which require different skills and equipment.  The first is the idea that while there may be similarities in culture and social structure between a glass-making site and a bead-making site, there would also be many differences because the sites are making two very different things.  This difference would also apply to the relationship between sites that made beads and sites that made both glass and beads.  The second idea is that if we were to determine the product of manufacture at a site, we could logically say that if we have a site that makes beads and a site that makes both, then we could argue that these sites may not have had extensive direct influence over each other because the industries created in both areas are different.  I will try to explain what I mean a bit further, but as I said, these thoughts are not terribly well formed, so bear with me.

I’m going to start with the first idea, since it seems a little easier to explain.  As I was reading some ethnoarchaeological accounts of the modern manufacture sites in India, I recognized a similarity with village sites in Indonesia.  Let me try to give an example.  In Indonesia, many villages grow salak (snakeskin fruit).  The entire village is invested in the growth and production of anything and everything having to do with salak.  Most of the men tend the trees and do much of the planting, cultivating, and harvesting.  Young men and boys (and sometimes older men) will sort the salak into three sizes: small, medium, and large.  The women either bring the fresh salak to the market to sell or process the salak into kripik, a crunchy sort of chip made by drying thin slices of salak in the sun.  Little girls help their mothers by tying salak together or by packaging the dry kripik and guarding the rest against thieves, many of which are young boys.

I bring this up because the ethnographic descriptions of bead manufacturing villages in India seems much the same.  Not that the entire village is involved in bead production, but that a large majority certainly is.  Men tend to the glass and production of beads while older women and men stir the ash with the rounded beads.  Children are given the task of collecting waste and sorting it by color and young to middle age women string the beads.  These are very much generalizations, but it seems similar to the situation in Indonesia.

The description of the glass-making seems different, though.  Since the vast majority of the work is done in and around the furnace, I would expect the the primary responsibility of glass manufacture is handled by one group of people.  Since raw glass is the finished product, there isn’t much else for others to do, is there?  So rather than an entire village production, it seems like there could easily be some secondary industry that is operated by those not making glass.  I may well be completely wrong on this, though, I really don’t know.  I suppose the idea is simply that villages are doing different things when they produce different goods and that there is some form of difference between a glass manufacture site, a bead manufacture site, and a site which manufactures both.

This leads into the second idea comes from some bead scholars’ claims that a group of bead-makers moved from Arikamedu in India to other bead manufacture centers around the Indian Ocean.  If Arikamedu is a bead-making site and many of the manufacture sites in Southeast Asia manufacture both beads and glass, though (and this is hypothetical), then could we say that the bead-makers from Arikamedu probably didn’t move to those sites, and that it is more likely that the sites originated on their own?  Or at least that the if the system from Arikamedu did transfer from India to Southeast Asia (and other regions), that it underwent significant change to a point where it’s no longer the same system as that at Arikamedu?  I’m more inclined to believe that the technology may have transferred, but that local craftspeople altered it to fit their own way of life.


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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