Stripes, Swirls, and Squiggles: Documenting Bead Designs

eye bead-8Documenting design is a highly complex thing to do. Yesterday’s post talked only about eye beads, but we saw that there is a large variety of what might be called eye beads in the archaeological record. So how do we even begin to talk about design?

This particular system took me a few years to work out, honestly. You can’t really just write “eye bead” in a column labelled “design” for the same reason you can’t really just write “red” in a column labelled “colour.” It’s far too broad a term.

chevronOn the other hand, you can’t really come up with individual names for all the types of eye beads. Theoretically you could: “eye bead type 1” or something similar. But that gets very confusing, particularly for beads that have multiple design elements going on at once.

Spiral beadWhat makes more sense (to me, at least), is to break down the elements of design into different categories, then create values for different styles within that category. I use colours, shape, line style, line pattern, chequering, and marvered.

Colours simply refers to how many colours there are on the bead. Yes, you’ve just documented them all, but I find it easier having a column that simply tells you how many there are.

Shape means any shape of a design that isn’t a line. This might be eyes, flowers, spirals, stars, fish, birds, anything.

Line style refers to the design of the line itself – whether its monochrome or polychrome, reticella, etc.

Line pattern refers to the design the line makes on the bead. Is it straight, curved, or wavy? Does it run parallel to the perforation or perpendicular to it? Anything the line is doing goes here.

Chequering refers to whether the design has a chequered pattern to it. I’ll explain why I separate this in a later post.

Marvered refers to whether the design has been marvered in (included in the glass to create a smooth surface to the bead).

Aside from “colours,” each of these categories requires a lot more explanation, which is what we’ll get into in the coming weeks.


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 Stripes, Swirls, and Squiggles: Documenting Bead Designs

  1. Pingback: Bead Design: Take 2 | Stringing the Past

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