This is part of a new series (another one, I know!) looking at beads that are currently housed in museums. Essentially, I’m going to pick one at random each week and tell you as much as I can about it. I’ve looked at thousands of beads, all in museums, and many museums put their collections online, so this will last quite a while. Here’s the first installment: an eye bead from Craigsfordmains, Scotland.
Craigsfordmains or Craigsford Mains (spelling seems questionable in relation to the beads) is located in Berwickshire, Scotland near the town or Earlston.
I only know of two beads that have been found there, but there may be more in other museums or from other periods. But I’m only going to talk about one of them today: a spiral eye bead currently housed in the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University.
The general shape of the bead is circular when viewing the bead facing the perforation and fairly cylindrical when facing the side. That makes it a circular barrel shape. Since the length of the bead is shorter than the diameter, we call is a short circular barrel.
As far as size, the diameter is about 26mm (~1in.), the length is about 18mm (~3/4in.), and the diameter of the perforation is about 10mm (~1/3in.).
The bead was made by winding the glass around an iron rod (or mandrel) rather than through drawing out the glass.
Since the bead is wound, we know that it may have come from somewhere in Scotland or the rest of Britain. Then again, winding was a common technique in much of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East for wide ranges of time, so it may not come from Britain.
The design of the bead – cobalt blue with white spiral eyes on added bosses – is decidedly European, so far as I’m aware. It’s often referred to as Anglo-Saxon or Frankish, and thought to date from the pre-Roman Iron Age in Britain to about the 8th or 9th centuries AD. That’s quite a long period, but that’s the way archaeology often is.
To my knowledge, there are other beads like this found at five other sites in Scotland, most of which are in the eastern part of the country. They are all relatively obscure sites with very few beads, which makes these finds rather interesting. We also don’t find any of this type at sites in Scotland with hundreds of beads. I’m not too sure what that means, but perhaps this type dates to a different period than those sites with many, many beads.
The fact that most of these sites in Scotland are in the east might mean that they’re getting the beads from eastern sea ports.
And that’s about what we can say off of a single bead. That’s quite a lot, though it may not be what you were hoping for. I can’t tell you exactly where the bead was made, but I can say it was probably Europe. I can’t tell you exactly who used it or when, but I can say it was probably someone near Craigsfordmains Scotland sometime between the pre-Roman Iron Age and the end of the first millennium AD. And for using only visual analysis on a bead that was buried in the dirt at least 1100 years ago, I’d say that’s pretty good.