Stringing in the Past 2

Sorry for the delay in my usual Thursday post. I was terribly ill yesterday, so it had to wait until today!

Last week I talked a bit about stringing the past in terms of what people were using to string the beads. We don’t talk about it much in archaeology, and when I mentioned it to a colleague last week, she had a similar “Oh, lord, that’s so simple and obvious why haven’t we ever thought about that?” moment.

We came to the conclusion that so often in archaeology we don’t have any of the remains of what was used to string the beads, because that would generally require either highly de-oxyginated, water-logged conditions (like a peat bog) or extremely dry, arid conditions (like the desert). And the places where most bead research is happening are neither of those.

We also figure it’s taken so long to recognize something like that because archaeologists who study beads don’t really bead, which I’m finding is a fatal flaw every time I pick up my thread.

And this last week, I was making a set of earrings (they’re very pretty, I’ll post about them on Saturday). I ran out of thread the night before, so I had to stop and pick some up for my earrings. Rather than get just white (which is what I’ve been working with), it was more cost effective and more creative to get a pack of thread with various colors in it instead. I wanted a darker color for certain pieces anyway, and figured the other colors would be used as well once I got into it.

Which is about the time it dawned on me that because archaeologists don’t talk about what people used to string beads in the past, they’re also not talking about the potential for those strings to be different colors. And if the strings are different colors, then different colors might be used for different pieces just as we do in modern beading.

And for the people making the beaded object, the color of the string might be just as important as the color, shape, and size of the bead.

Which means that by not discussing the material used to string the beads, let alone its color, archaeologists are missing a large part of the picture when it comes to beaded objects in the past.

I don’t really know what to do about that, because it’s so rare that the fibers used to string the beads actually survive. But at least when talking theoretically about the importance of beads, maybe we should also talk about the importance of the strings they’re on.

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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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One Response to Stringing in the Past 2

  1. Pingback: Supply and Demand for Beads | Stringing the Past

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