Colorblindness and Beads

Every time I talk about beads, I end up talking about color. Anytime most people talk about beads, they talk about color. And every time we talk about color, the question inevitably arises: what about color perception? Just because you see that color as blue doesn’t mean I see it as blue or vice versa. When we’re looking at beads, how can we talk about color if everyone’s perception is possibly different?

Normally I sort of dismiss this by saying that we talk about general colors – blue, red, orange, etc. And so long as researchers define what those terms mean and how they classify colors that are in between, then we’re clear to discuss color categories.

But what about colorblindness? I often get that as a follow-up question and never really come up with a good answer. I don’t know what to do if a researcher is colorblind. I have a number of friends with various forms of colorblindness, and I honestly don’t know how they would describe certain beads.

And even though some researchers have given thought to colorblindness of other researchers, we’ve never actually talked about the potential for colorblindness in the past and how that would potentially affect an individual’s bead choices.

Now, when my friends point to a color and say it’s emerald green when it’s really brown, I can turn to them and say, “No, that’s brown.” When colorblind people in the past were choosing which beads to purchase or string into a pattern, they may have had someone say “These are the blue ones,” or “These ones are green, not those.” Or they might not.

So much of our research in beads and archaeology in general makes the inherent assumption that everyone could see color relatively the same way as we, the researcher, does. How many of the color patterns we see on beaded objects of the past are actually patterns created by colorblind people or those who perceive color differently? Does that change our methods of research or our understanding of past fashion decisions? And if it does, how?

I don’t have a clue, I just had the thought this morning. But it’s an interesting thought, and I would love it if we could start a discussion in the comments.

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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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3 Responses to Colorblindness and Beads

  1. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #7 | Doug's Archaeology

  2. Pingback: What Color Is That? Part 1 | Stringing the Past

  3. Pingback: Alert: Beads Can Change Color | Stringing the Past

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