Red Beads

Last week I started talking about monochrome beads. I’m going to have posts on the general colors we see in beads, and I promise I will try to make it not just about glass! I figured we’d start at the beginning of the rainbow, so we’re going to talk about red beads today.

For my own research, at least, red beads are any bead where the primary color is red. It seems very simple, but it’s actually a bit more complicated when you realize you have to draw the line between red and orange or red and pink.  For example, would you call the bead below orange or red?

amber bead red orange

Amber bead, Scotland


Or how about this one?

Amber bead, Scotland


I would call the top one an orangey-red, and therefore a red bead. The bottom one I would say is almost a yellowish-orange, and therefore an orange bead.

This may seem confusing, and is certainly not 100% objective. But color is one of the main criteria people use when determining which beads to use and what for. We can’t ignore the category just because it’s complicated.

So red beads. This gets a bit complicated with certain materials, because they may change color between the time they ended up in the ground and the point where we as archaeologists find them and dig them up. They won’t really change from yellow to purple, but amber beads can certainly change from orange to red. In fact, with amber, the color has a lot to do with exposure to various elements like air or heat. The more exposure amber has, the darker it gets. Glass beads might corrode over time, which may change the color slightly. Or it may have residues or patinas formed on it that make the color appear different. Stones, if treated with heat, can change color as well. Stones also tend to vary in color from one area to the next within a single bead.

This is why we talk about red beads as a single grouping rather than splitting hairs between all the different hues of red. We can do that to a degree, and I’ll talk about that in my next post, but in general it’s best to stick to broader color terms.

opaque red Ip bead

Red glass bead, Thailand

Red beads can be transparent, translucent, or opaque. Generally speaking, most translucent or transparent red glass beads in the past were made with lead and copper. Opaque reds were made with copper. Contrary to what you might think, iron doesn’t really color glass red; it usually colors it yellow, green, blue, or brown.


carnelian bead phil

Carnelian bead, Philippines

Red stone beads are generally agate or carnelian. Carnelian is essentially red agate without the banding. Agate could be red or orange or a wide range of colors and always has bands of color.

Ceramic beads could be red depending on the color of the clay. Wooden beads (or any material, really) can also be painted red.



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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3 Responses to Red Beads

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

  2. Pingback: Orange Beads | Stringing the Past

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

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