Green Beads

Green is one of those colors that throws you for a loop when it comes to beads. Or at least, it does me. That’s partly because most beads that seem greenish are really primarily yellow or blue, and partly because most beads that really are green either don’t look green initially or look fake or plastic.

Glass collar bead from southern India.

Green glass bead from southern India.

But green is easily a color that appeared in ancient times. It doesn’t seem as common as blue or red or yellow, but they’re not as rare as, say, purple or white.

All the green beads I’ve seen are glass. Some are a deep, translucent green while others are opaque apple green. Some are lighter and translucent, but that’s not very common. Green stone beads can be made from jade or jasper. Emerald beads may occur, but they’re not something I see often in archaeology. Faience beads might also be green, but that’s usually due to corrosion/degradation of the faience and isn’t the original color of the bead.

Green glass beads from Scotland

Green glass beads from Scotland

Green glass is made using iron. This is probably a bit counter-intuitive, because copper makes the red and orange colors while iron makes the greens. Most people think iron would make the reds and oranges due to iron’s ability to rust, and that copper would produce greens because that’s the color it takes on when it corrodes. Instead, it’s the opposite.

Green beads are one of those beads you always need to shine an LED light through (if you’re doing research of any kind). A surprising number of seemingly black beads are actually a very dark green.KoM 019 (2 of 3)Here’s another tidbit about glass and color: Glass isn’t naturally clear. It’s actually naturally a greenish color (or brownish) due to iron impurities in the sand used to make the glass. Eliminating the impurities was incredibly difficult in ancient times, so clear glass was not really made/used until about the 15th century. We’ll talk more about that when I talk about clear glass, but that’s one reason why we have bottles that are brown or green – they’re just darker versions of the glass’s natural color.Jade beads can actually be two different minerals: jadeite or nephrite. Nephrite is slightly softer and can be white or a variety of greens. Jadeite is a harder mineral and can be found in pink, mauve, blue, and emerald green (among others). Both contain large amounts of silica, just as glass does.

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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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One Response to Green Beads

  1. Pingback: Black Beads | Stringing the Past

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