Common Glaxsis mostly amorphous silicon dioxide ( Si O 2 ), which is the same chemical compound found in quartz, or in its polycrystalline form, sand. Pure silica has a melting point of about 2000 °C (3632 °F ), so two other substances are always added to the sand in the lGass -making process. One is soda( sodium carbonate Na 2 C O 3 ),or potash, the equivalent potassium compound, which lowers the melting point to about 1000 °C. However, the soda makes the Glass water-soluble, which is obviously undesirable, so lime ( calcium oxide, Ca O ) is the third component, added to restore insolubility.
History of the Glass Bead
(compiled by Lady Sveva Lucciola)
I study beads for several reasons. They are anthropologically very significant since they are the oldest and most universal art form. I would like to have a clearer understanding of what and how glass beads were made, so that in my recreations come closer to the mark. Most of all, I study beads because I find them fascinating and beautiful! There have been many different mediums that beads have been made out of, bone, stone, clay, seeds, flowers... the list goes on and on. But I am going to focus on beads made of glass, because that is what I do.
The history of glass bead making seems to be on of reinventing the wheel over and over. We have evidence of many sophisticated methods, including core formed and wound, as early as 2340-2180 BC in Mesopotamia and the Caucasus region (Russia). The complicated mosaic methods were developed a little later around 1500 BC. In Nuzi (130 miles north of Baghdad) over 11,000 beads have been found that date before the site's destruction in 1400 BC. Although not really limited to beadmaking, the three major Ancient Glassmaking eras are: Egyptian, Roman , Islamic influenced Eastern Mediterranean and later, the most renowned boom in glass bead making was centered in Venice. As each of these cultures developed and prospered, so did their bead and other glass working techniques. When these societies collapsed, their methods were buried with them...only to be reinvented yet again by a later people.
It is believed that the Egyptians first used faience (a glazed fused quartz composite) but later developed the core, wound and mosaic methods of using glass to make beads and other decorations. They were the first culture to have glass-making guilds. They used glass to imitate precious stones, such as the highly desired lapis lazuli and turquoise. These beads were often opaque like the stones would have been. Although they were making glass beads as early as 2181-2160 BC, the large commercial market developed closer to 1400 BC. The first great glass making epoch is considered from 1350 BC, declining around 1200 BC, and virtually disappeared with the fall of the New Kingdom in 1085 BC. However, Alexander the Great managed to bring about a revival in the 4thc. BC.
After the fall of Egypt, there was no one culture clearly holding a monopoly on glass bead making. There is evidence of several cultures, particularly around the Mediterranean, were bead production was going on. Phoenicia (now Lebanon) was one of these areas. From 1200 BC to 2 BC, a number of Phoenician beads were made for both local use and exportation. These include the unique core formed "head" beads. These were often exported to other neighboring societies, such as the Etruscans, who used the polychrome glass beads with their own granulated gold beads.
By this time, bead production was not limited to the Mediterranean. There have been glass beads found in the archeological sites of the Hallstatt Celtic culture in Austria (900 BC) and the La Tene sites in Switzerland (600-100 BC) as well as other Celtic locations from 200-1 BC. These clearly demonstrate the development of some cultural styles and unique features, such as the raised eye patterns. However, just because these cultures were fashioning glass beads, does not necessarily indicate a complete glass manufacturing society. In many cases glass was imported from elsewhere or, as in Britain from 300 BC to 1 AD, the glass was “reused”.
Recently there has been excitement about the role India seems to have played in early glass and stone production history. We have know for a while that as early at the 4th c. BC glass was used to create false gems and there was established glass manufacture in Ceylon from the 3rd c. BC. India is also believed to be the first to develop the method of creating gold and silver foil beads, which they exported all over the world. The bead production and exportation port city of Arikamedu (earlier known as Viraipattinam), has gained quite a bit of interest among the archeologists. Within it’s ruins have been found early furnaces and the earliest evidence of the drawn and cut method of creating beads. The bead production in the Arikamedu area continued with little interruption up to the 1600s, constituting the largest and longest-lived glass bead industry. There are several tools specific to their particular method of creating drawn beads, and it is through the use of these that we trace the immigration of these early Indian craftsmen and the importation of their technologies, through the East and Middle Eastern regions. Each of their glass centers appear to have made their own glass, not recycling Western glass or distributing from a central site. These Indo-Pacific beads (not all from Arikamedu) were exported as far as the Philippines and to East, West and North Africa, and have constituted the just under 2/3 of the beads excavated from archaeological sites in those areas from 1 AD to 1200 AD. Terminology has been a bit confusing as earlier bead historians often lumped these beads together as “Roman”, thinking it was the Roman trade and influence that created this culture. The more recent excavations in Arikamedu prove this to not be the case, and it is more likely that Rome established trade connections with this region specifically because they were already a well known port town and exporter of beads. These and the others that were exported from the rest of Asia have also been lumped together as “Trade Wind Beads”. More recently the term “Indo-Pacific” has been used to describe them specifically, although this term was originally coined by the late Peter Frances, Jr. to specifically describe the drawn and cut beads.
This brings us to the Roman period, which is considered to be 100 BC to 400 AD. This included all the many glass working centers throughout the Roman empire (what is now Syria, Egypt, Italy, Switzerland, the Rhineland, France and England) however, probably did not consist of any production actually in Rome itself. Many technologies were both rediscovered and newly invented over this time period. One of the most significant was the invention of the blow pipe (Sidon). It was used to make drawn beads, but the technique differed from the earlier methods in India. In fact, it does not appear that they were familiar with these other techniques and the blow pipe method was developed independently. This was a faster cheaper means of making beads in mass than the individual wound method that had been being used in Europe and the Mediterranean before. The blow pipe also allowed the artisan to expand a bead (or other glass object) from the inside, thereby eliminating the weight and shear amount of glass needed for the core formed methods. This might explain the disappearance of the core formed beads, and vessels around the 1st c. BC. Due to these more efficient methods, there were more glass beads produced in the 1st c AD than in the previous 1500 years.
The individual wound method of bead making was still continuing on through out the European provinces. We have found evidence of wound bead making with the main glass producing centers. However, other beadmakers were working far from these sources with glass that was either reused or imported to them. It seems to have been a cottage industry that continued in parts of Europe from the Roman period through the end of the Middle Ages. Although there were some common universal styles of bead and bead decoration, there also evolved several unique characteristics within the different bead producing cultures.
There has been some specific study of the Anglo-Saxon beads. In addition to the single colored beads, large portions of what has been recovered are eye-beads, or beads with lines, waves, or double crossed waves. Although many of these appear to be very much like the Roman beads, there are several styles that are fairly specific to the Anglo-Saxons. These include the dark pink (5th c), terracotta (6th & 7th c), and those with the yellow and green twist decoration. Based on the high numbers and the distribution pattern, it is quite probable that these were made at the few bead production centers in England, and distributed outwards. (Guido)
The Franks dominated Western Europe from the late 5th to early 9th c. They were inspired by Roman designs, and also imitated the Celtic beads from the La Tene and Hallstatt periods of 1500 yrs earlier. They also used the earlier Celtic beads artifacts, both whole and in broken bits, for luck. These were “harvested” from Celtic burial grounds.
The Vikings are another culture that is well known for their admiration of beads. They both produced their own and traded to acquire them. There have been beadmaking workshops found from the 9th and 10th c. in Scandinavia. Archeological evidence supports glass beads making in Helgo and Paviken, as well as possibly Birka and Ribe, although the glass rods seem to have been imported from outside. The use of mosaic beads seems to have been quite popular, as well as the other styles of decoration. These beads were strung and worn as necklaces both around neck and suspended from brooch pins on dress/aprons. Additionally, a type of very large bead has been found in several male graves, in conjunction with a particular type of sword. These have been nicknamed “sword beads” although they were not attached to the sword.
All in all, there is little evidence of any major centralized glasswork being done in Central Europe from 800-1400 AD, in any particular place or culture, although small workshops continued on individually. We see the potash lime glass (wood ashes) replacing the "soda" glass by the late 11th c. This produced a heavier, chunkier more durable glass, but it was not suitable for fine detail work. It was more suitable for etching and engraving.
Stepping away from our European forefathers, the Middle East is also a region of production worthy of commentary and with discernable cultural styles. Like the Indian produced beads, it has sometimes been lumped together with the “Roman”, although many of the styles a vastly different. The Middle Eastern/Islamic dominance in Mediterranean was from AD 600-1400. Most of Islamic beads found between the 7th c and the 14th c. have been glass. Islamic beads developed with distinctive methods of decoration using trailing, feathering, dragging, and folded technique. They bear the influenced of Islamic religious dictates and the subsequent use of pattern and stylization. It is also interesting to note that the many different glass centers seem to have used different colors. This might have been due not only to variations in local tastes, but also to the available minerals needed to make the colors in the glass. One notable site found has been the old Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, where significant glass making seems to have gone on from 661-1250. The Islamic period of glass making, beads and otherwise, comes to an abrupt halt with the invasion Mongols in 1401 and the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
The last glassmaking epoch, within our frame of study, took place in Venice. Glass making had been going on in or around Venice throughout this early history. In 1292, the glass factories were relocated to the island of Murano both to reduce risk of fire to the city, and to protect the secrets of creating glass. This secrecy was very important to the city and by 1490, glassmakers were under penalty of death for either revealing these secrets or leaving and starting business elsewhere. Due to this concentration, they were able to reinvent many of the earlier methods which had become lost in time. One of these was the hollow cane drawn method which is much faster and thereby cheaper to make many beads with. We do know that despite these restrictions some glassworkers did relocate elsewhere, and there are other areas, such as Spain, that were making beads. However, the main production center seems to clearly have been Venice.
With the exploration and settlement of the New World, the demand for beads grew higher and higher. Explorers, traders and missionaries had great use for beads as a unit of exchange with the people of the New World, and Africa. By using beads to purchase slaves, furs and other items the European abroad could get a 1000% return on his investment. This new demand for bead created a huge boom in the bead industry in Venice. In 1500 there were 24 glass factories on Murano. By 1606, there were 251 bead producers in Venice alone. This dramatic increase in numbers is due in part to the major cottage industry of wound glass beads, which began to be known as lampwork. (Also note these 2 numbers are apples and oranges…glass factories on the island of Murano vs. lampworkers in the city of Venice) Some of the most significant types of beads in association with the Venetian epoch were the seed bead, the Cornaline “white heart” beads and most importantly the chevron “Rosetta” beads. All of these are different types of drawn beads. The seed beads are tiny type of bead most often sewn onto clothing. The others are types of layered drawn beads. The Cornalines have a white center under a translucent color, often red. The light bouncing off the white center made the bead look brighter and seem to sparkle. The Rosetta beads are considered the most complicated and are still popular today. They are created by building up layers of different colors, often successively molded in the process. They are next ground at the ends to display the patterns. We have evidence of the chevrons being made in Murano/Venice as far back as at least 1480. The earliest most commonly have 7 layers in the following order: translucent green, white, blue, white, red, white and blue. This is also the era where the term “Millefiore” came into use as the mosaic cane slices were used to create the look of a million flowers. Although the canes were probably made on Murano, the beads themselves would have been made by the many lampworkers..
Another type of bead from this era, although it is not known with any certainty if they were produced in Venice or elsewhere, were the “Nueva Cadiz” (modern term). These beads, which are closely linked with Spanish exploration and trade, are another type of layered drawn bead. They were made up of 3 layers, often deep blue, white, and a lighter blue surface layer. Most of them are quite long and skinny, although there are some shorter ones. The specific thing about these beads is that the canes were square in cross section making a rectangular bead, and sometime the cane was twisted. . They have turned up in many places, from Fustat (Old Cairo), Madagascar to Jamestown, VA. They disappear about 1575 in Spanish America, but were still being used by the English at Jamestown in 1607 or later.
As we see, the production of glass beads is a heritage that spans millennia. Different means and methods have been discovered, some to be lost again and again. Hopefully, with better understanding and more attention being paid to this we will get an even better understanding of how these beads were made and their important role in society.
Corning Museum of Glass. Survey of Glassmaking from Ancient Egypt to the Present. University of Chicago, Chicago; 1974
Dayton, John E. American School of Prehistoric Research, Bulletin #41, The Discovery of Glass: Experiments in the Smelting of Rich, Dry Silver Ores, and the Reproduction of Bronze Age-type Cobalt Blue Glass as a Slag. Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass; 1993
Dubin, Lois Sherr. The History of Beads. Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated , New York; 1987
Engle, Anita. Readings in Glass History No. 23: From Myth to Reality, An Intelligent Woman's Guide to Glass History. Phoenix, Jerusalem; 1991.
Engle, Anita. Readings in Glass History No. 22: The Ubiquitous Trade Bead. Phoenix, Jerusalem; 1990.
Guido, Margaret. The Glass Beads of Ango-Saxon England c.AD 400-700. Boydell Press. London, 1999.
Johns, Catherine. The Jewellery of Roman Britain: Celtic and Classical Traditions., U of Mich Press, Ann Arbor; 1996
Karklins, Karlie. Glass Beads; the 19th Century Levin Catalogue and Venetian Bead Book and Guide to Description of Glass Beads. Parks Canada; Ottawa. 1985
Neuburg, Frederic. Ancient Glass. Barrie & Rockliff, London. 1962
Sen, SN and Chaudhuri, Mamata. Ancient Glass and India. Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi; 1985
Singh, Ravindra. Ancient Indian glass: Archaeology and Technology. Parimal Publications, Delhi; 1989
Some information also taken from my note from the 2003 Bead Expo Saturday sessions devoted to The Evolution of Glass Beadmaking. This included Jane Spillman of the Corning Museum of Glass, The history of glass as a medium; James Lankton Bead history based on his research and extensive travel. Hide Kawakama, a beadmaker, businessman, and inventor presented the history of glass beads in Japan with an overview of current scene there.
Web sites of use:
Canes-Solid lengths of glass formed by drawing then cut into the desired length particularly for decorative purposes. They can be different colors and patterns, displayed either in on the side or in cross section.
Core formed – Formed by trailing or gathering molten glass around a core supported by a rod. When the object cools, the core is scraped out. This creates a larger and lighter bead since not all of the internal area is filled with glass.
Drawn Beads- A bubble is formed in the molten glass, and then stretched out very, very thin. This resulting tube is then cut into smaller sections forming beads. What was the bubble forms the hole in the center. The edges can also be worn or polished smooth but tumbling with abrasive materials while heating.
Faience- The oldest “artificial” substance. Probably first made 5,500 years ago. It consists of a core of quartz particles fused together where they touch. A glaze is applied over this. Most faience pieces have lost the glaze because the core and glass expand and contract at different rates as it gets hotter or colder.
Feathered and Raked- This method of decoration is created by applying different colors of glass in lines on the bead and then gently dragging across the surface of the bead.
Folded- Another Middle Eastern style of bead where by the layers of glass are folded over creating the patterned lumpy bead. Sometimes referred to as Torus.
Mosaic/Millefiore - is a multi-step process. First the canes are created so that the cross section produces the desired image. These are pulled out until the desired diameter and cut up into slices. These slices are then used for surface decoration of the beads. They can either be applied individually to wound beads, or laid out side by side, cross section up, and fused together, using a mold.
Wound- Wound beads are formed by wrapping molten glass around a mandrel.