Monochrome Beads

I’ve talked a lot about various shape modifications that beads can have, and now I’m going to start going into color variations. The first main color variation is whether the bead is monochrome (one color) or polychrome (more than one color).


beads-2Monochrome beads have only one intended color. The whole bead is purple or yellow or red or black or any other color you can think of. They can be any material, any shape, and any size, so long as they are one intended color.


Amber bead from Scotland

Amber bead from Scotland

Amber bead from Scotland lit from behind

Same bead lit from behind

This doesn’t necessarily mean the color is uniform throughout! Amber beads are monochrome, but the exact orange of the amber varies throughout the bead. I also talked a bit on Thursday about recycled glass beads, and how they tend to have darker streaks of the intended color throughout the glass. Those streaks usually aren’t intentional, it’s a result of the recycled glass not mixing completely.

This gets a bit iffy when you consider stone beads. Lots of stones are monochrome, but if you have a piece of agate or amethyst that is a bit marbled, does that count as monochrome? Personally, I would say it doesn’t, since the person creating that bead intentionally chose the area of the stone with more than one color.

Monochrome beads are by far the most commonly used beads worldwide. They’re found everywhere there are beads, which is pretty much every human society you can think of. This is partly because they are easier to make and therefore easier (or cheaper) to obtain in most cases.

IMG_1228But it’s also because monochrome beads can be strung together in various ways to create a wide variety of patterns and objects. You can turn them into fish, dragons, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, clothing, etc, etc, etc. For any bead (but especially monochrome beads), the bead is only part of the finished product.

Many scholars emphasize polychrome beads, because they’re a bit more interesting in their design and are often seen as being more valuable. But certain colors were incredibly rare, and could be considered more valuable than certain polychrome beads. They’re also found in much larger numbers.

So to honor the importance of these beads, the next few posts are going to talk about the various colors we find, when we find them, and how they’re made for the materials we find them in!



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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2 Responses to Monochrome Beads

  1. Pingback: Red Beads | Stringing the Past

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

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