False Gold-Foil Beads

My absolute favorite type of bead has got to be the false gold-foil. These beads first appeared around the 7th-10th centuries AD and as far as I can tell, they are found mostly in and around Thailand.

False gold-foil beads are made with a semi-opaque white glass tube layered with a translucent amber tube. There is no gold anywhere in the bead, but the finished product looks incredibly similar to actual gold-foil beads.

Gold foil bead from Kerala, India. This one is real, but if done right, you could make a fake gold-foil bead that's practically identical.

Gold foil bead from Kerala, India. This one is real, but if done right, you could make a fake gold-foil bead that’s practically identical.

To me, these beads show the humanity behind the object in a way I don’t really get with other beads as much. The other beads are worn, sure, and they’re made by someone and those people are making active decisions about what they make and how they use the beads. But these show not just thought about how to use the beads or how to create new designs – they show a distinct desire to essentially con the system.

It’s so human.


And it’s so funny. It’s not that I thought people wouldn’t try to con the system in the 7th century AD, it’s that I simply hadn’t thought of conning the system in exactly that way. Finding archaeological evidence that someone in Thailand came up with that scheme makes me happy, because it’s clever and deserves credit. Some of these false gold-foil beads were believed to be the real thing by archaeologists until we tested them chemically and realized there was absolutely no gold in there. If you can make that good of an imitation that lasts for the next 1300 years, then kudos to you, whoever you are.


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 False Gold-Foil Beads

  1. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #9 | Doug's Archaeology

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