Eye Beads

eye bead-12If we’re going to go through common polychrome designs, you have to talk about eye beads. Eye beads have been around for thousands of years in various forms, and they appear all over Europe, Africa, and Asia.


eye bead-3Eye beads, in a very loose definition of the term, are any bead that has a dots or circles encircling the bead in a patter of some kind. This seems really vague, but as we get into these, you can see how they’re related. Whether all these designs were meant to look like eyes is a discussion for later this week.

eye bead-10The most common core (or 1st) color of the bead is a deep cobalt blue. Turquoise is also fairly common, at least in certain parts of Europe. But eye beads can also have a core color of red, yellow, black, green, white, or pretty much anything else.

eye bead-7Eyes come in a wide variety of colors, but the most common is certainly white. Yellow, blue, green, or grey are also relatively common, depending on the core color. Generally speaking, darker cores have lighter eyes, while lighter cores have darker eyes.

IMG_1562Eyes also come in a wide variety of designs, the most common of which is a simple dot. Another common design is a dot with a dark (black or brown) dot in the middle for a pupil. A third is a dot with a circle of the same or different color drawn around it.

eye bead-8eye bead-5A fairly common design in Europe during the first millennium AD was a dot with reticella-like around it, but I’ve not really seen these anywhere other than Europe. Another common European design is a spiral eye, in which the eyes aren’t dots, but spirals.

mosaic jatim-1Mosaic cane eye beads are perhaps the most complex, creating eye designs with glass rods, then slicing them very thinly and applying them to a core of glass. These beads are found in eastern Java and parts of Korea, but were all made in eastern Java as far as we’re aware. All of these beads tend to be the same colors, too; there’s little variation between mosaic cane eye beads.

eye bead-11Sometimes there will be other designs on the bead, like a monochrome or even polychrome line around the middle, or a line weaving in and out of the eyes. These are still a type of eye bead; they just have other designs happening as well.

The design for eye beads might be marvered into the glass (so the surface is smooth), or it might be applied on top of the core (making the surface very bumpy. All the eyes on the bead might be the same color, or they might alternate colors.

eye bead-6Basically, there’s a whole lot of variation worldwide when it comes to eye beads. But they don’t seem to vary much in terms of their importance. Many eye beads are still used in many parts of the world to ward off evil eye. The design itself is though to have originated in the Middle East and spread from there, with each new region making stylistic adjustments as they wished.


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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4 Responses to Eye Beads

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