Spiral Beads

spiral 2One of my favourite bead designs is the spiral bead. These beads are always wound and tend to be either normal, circular beads, triangular beads or (technically) hexagonal. They have anywhere between two and four spirals that radiate out until they hit another spiral.

spiral 1The most common type I’ve seen is the (technically) hexagonal shape with three spirals, each of which are centred on one side. I say technically hexagonal because they don’t generally consist of six sides of equal length – there are three longer sides and three shorter ones. To me, they look more like triangular beads with the points flattened.

Polychrome 1Some of these triangular-yet-hexagonal beads have the spiral centred on the longer edges (which I interpret as the original sides of the triangle) and some have them centred on the shorter edges (which I interpret as the original points of the triangle). So far, I haven’t found any real difference in distribution or colours or practice regarding that distinction, but I find it interesting nonetheless. The majority of these beads have their spirals centred on the shorter edges (or points).

Spiral beadWhen the beads are triangular and their points intact, the spirals are always centred on a point. Circular beads don’t have points, so the spirals are spaced evenly round the bead.

As for colours, the spirals are nearly always an opaque medium yellow. If they aren’t an opaque medium yellow, they are an opaque yellow of some kind. I have never seen spiral beads with a non-yellow spiral.

spiral 3The base colour, though, has a wider range of colour. They are often a dark, translucent colour that appears either deep blue or black under regular fluorescent lighting. Sometimes the base is a translucent pale yellow or green.

But, shine an LED light through these beads and you get a whole rainbow of colour. They might be a deep cobalt blue, a dark purple, green, amber, or hot pink. I know I’ve mentioned the hot pink thing before – these are the beads I’ve seen it on the most.

These beads are most often found in Iron Age or early medieval contexts in Scotland, though a similar type is found in Anglo-Saxon contexts across England. I haven’t really seen them elsewhere.

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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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