I’ve talked a bit about the different options people had in the past regarding beads, particularly in terms of material, color or shape of the beads and then color or material of the thread or wire or string used.
There are is a huge range of shapes of beads, and colors and materials. There is also a wide range of materials and colors of each used to string beads. And there are all sorts of other characteristics that vary between the thread and the beads.
But there’s one huge factor that plays into all of it, and that’s supply and demand.
From a beader’s perspective, it’s largely about supply. You can’t use blue beads if there aren’t any blue beads to use. You can’t use wire if you don’t have any. And you might think long and hard about purchasing more expensive thread, because you can get a lot more of the cheaper variety and make far more things.
And we do talk about supply and demand in archaeology. There is and entire sub-field of economic archaeology and various theories that correspond to it. It’s not that these ideas are new to archaeology, per se, but they’re ideas that I certainly forget much of the time (and I expect others do, too). We often talk about differences in shape and color and material of beads in an area as being largely cultural preference. That is certainly a factor, and we see cultural preference when we look at the extent of Roman melon beads in Scotland or even just the distribution of opaque yellow beads or translucent cobalt blue.
But there’s also the factor of availability, which is largely due to the number of a type made and how far the manufacturers or merchants decide to venture in order to sell it. And just because we don’t find melon beads somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t want those beads; it may mean they couldn’t get them.