Segmented Beads

I’ve mentioned segmented beads a few times, so it seemed right to make that next in my line of posts about bead types.

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Example of a mold used to make segmented beads (Francis 2002, 90).

Segmented beads usually refers to a technique of manufacture for glass beads, not to the specific shape of the bead. Segmented beads are generally made rolling a tube of glass along a mold to form bulges, though this can be done by hand as well. These tubes are then cut in lengths of one, two, three, four, or five bulges to create a single bead.

The technique makes the bead look like multiple beads stuck together, but it’s really a molding technique rather than fusing beads together. The tube of glass could be drawn, wound, folded, or molded. The important thing about segmented beads is constricting the tube. Also, beads with six or more bulges are certainly possible, but they are rare in the archaeological record. Most segmented beads are one, two, three, or four bulges.

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 , single segmented bead from Kerala, India.

KoM 002 (1 of 3)

Blue segmented bead from Orkney, Scotland.

It is important to note that segmented beads can only have one bulge; they don’t have to be double or triple. You can usually tell if the glass by the perforation has a bit of a lip or looks to have been sliced, but single segmented beads do look very similar to single drawn beads.


Polychrome segmented bead from Orkney, Scotland.

Polychrome segmented bead from Orkney, Scotland.

Bead segmented by hand - note the unevenness compared to others shown here.

Bead segmented by hand – note the unevenness compared to others shown here.

Metal foil beads can be segmented, and that is perhaps the most common shape of a metal foil bead in the archaeological record. Polychrome beads can also be segmented, since segmenting is only concerned with shape.

It is also possible to have segmented beads made by hand, without a mold. The bulges in these beads were created by circling the tube with a sharp instrument. They tend to look a bit sloppier than those made using a mold.

I’ve been told there are other ways of constricting the glass to create segmented beads, but these are the only two I’ve seen in archaeology.

Fused double bead (not segmented) from southwestern Scotland.

Fused double bead (not segmented) from southwestern Scotland.

And now for some more confusion: there are double and triple beads that are not segmented, because they were not created using this molding technique. These were made by fusing two or three or more beads together to create something that looks like a segmented bead. While you might wonder whether this makes much difference to the person using the bead, it certainly makes a difference in how the beads are manufactured.

The Norse liked segmented beads quite a lot, usually metal foil or a deep, translucent cobalt blue. Lots of gold-foil segmented beads can be seen in contexts from the Middle East and parts of India. There are also segmented beads from Southeast Asian contexts, though they are a bit less common there in my experience.

Does anyone use segmented beads much in their modern work? Let me know in the comments!

Reference mentioned:

Francis, P.  2002. Asia’s Maritime Bead Trade 300BC to the Present. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.


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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4 Responses to Segmented Beads

  1. Pingback: Melon (Gadrooned) Beads | Stringing the Past

  2. Pingback: Collared Beads | Stringing the Past

  3. Pingback: Monochrome Beads | Stringing the Past

  4. Pingback: Museum Highlights: National Museum of Scotland, Part 1 | Stringing the Past

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