Beads in Space?

The currently unmanned Orion spacecraft, which will be used to take manned missions to Mars after 2020, was set to launch this morning. It had to cancel for today and will try again tomorrow morning due to issues with certain valves not closing.

There is a not-for-profit organization that plans to send people to Mars to start a new colony starting in 2024.

People going into space isn’t new to those living in 2014, but it’s incredibly new to humans as a species.

With people in space and people planning to set up colonies on other planets, there are some interesting implications for the future of archaeology and anthropology.

And since beads are something people rarely think about – often because they’re so ubiquitous or so small that they’re easy to forget – I wonder how many beads have been in space. How many people who’ve been on the International Space Station or elsewhere in space brought beads with them?

And do those objects with the beads on them gain more meaning for that person because they were in space? A pair of beaded earrings, for example – would they gain new significance for the owner after having been in space with them? And has anyone given someone something that was in space that happened to have beads on it?

And then there would be the question of why. Why take objects with beads to space? Why those specific objects and not others? Why bring them back? Why would they gain (or not gain) any significance after being in space?

Many of these questions might be answered by those who took the beads to space with, “I don’t know, I just picked some jewelry to bring,” or “I don’t know, I forgot that had beads on it.” Archaeologists (and anthropologists) often try to figure out the why to everything, the hidden meaning behind an action. But often in our day to day lives, we don’t necessarily do things for a single, conscious, meaningful reason; we do it because it was convenient or because we felt like it or because why not? Or we do it unconsciously. We take our favorite shirt which we like because of the material and the fit. That shirt may well have beads on it, but that’s not why we take the shirt. So we take the beads because they’re attached to the thing we really care about and piggy-backed along.

This doesn’t mean beads aren’t significant. They are highly significant in many places for a variety of reasons. But sometimes they might also be in a place because they happened to be attached to the thing that held meaning for those people, not because the beads themselves were meaningful. Which only emphasizes the point that beads, while often significant, are often only a part of the finished object and therefore only a part of its significance.

I wonder how many beads are in space, how many have been to space, and how many of them made it there without any conscious planning at all.


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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