R.P. Stamm has studied the beads in this jewelry and in his judgment they are as described. Stamm has spent 21 years in and out of Indonesia with his business. He began his own collecting of ancient beads leading to involvement with bead collectors and researchers from Japan, Taiwan, Italy, France as well as many in the U.S. This resulted in a stimulating exchange of bead information. Over time the Stamm bead collection was sold to several collectors one of whom donated a large grouping of these beads to the Bead Museum in Glendale, Arizona. That collection, together with fine pieces from other sources, has been described as one of the best collections of ancient Indonesian beads in the country.
Items found in one place often are coveted in another place. As early as 2000 BCE lapis lazuli was obtained in northern Afghanistan and traded to Mesopotamia, present day Iraq. Later Indian carnelian and onyx also were traded west. Highly prized Mediterranean coral made its way east to India. The most convenient form for these items were beads. As empires grew the movement of these items became important trade networks.
According to Peter Francis there have been six truly global networks dominated by beads. The carnelian industry of India providing the world for 4000 -5000 years. The Mediterranean coral bead industry supplying Europe, West Africa and India. The eastern Mediterranean glass bead industry produced the first true glass beads and their beads were traded through the Roman and Islamic periods. The Indo-Pacific bead industry first made beads in southern India several centuries BC and in a succession of bead centers in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, and finally in Sumatra. The Chinese glass bead industry exported to South East Asia about a thousand years ago, to East Africa, to the Americas with the Spanish and to Alaska with the Russians. Finally, the West European glass bead industry became significant as Europeans began to open up global trade routes after the great voyages of exploration.
Indo-Pacific and Javanese Beads
The most widely distributed beads of all time were the Indo-Pacific beads, sometimes called trade wind beads. Their history begins in Arikamedu, Southern India in the Fourth Century B.C.E. It subsequently developed in Sri Lanka, in the Malay Peninsula, Thailand and in Funan, the first state in South East Asia, now south Viet Nam. Finally, in 8th through 12th Century bead centers appeared in the Srivijaya kingdom in South Sumatra. By the 12th Century, Indo-Pacific bead making had disappeared in Southeast Asia, although it continued in Southern India for some time. Evidence for the wide dispersion of these relatively small, mostly monochrome, beads comes from royal tombs in China, Japan, Korea, sites in Micronesia, the Philipines, Java, Sumatra, the Middle East and West Africa. There is evidence that beadmakers settled in Sumatra and Java and subsequently created beads for their specific market. The earliest bead finds in Java and Bali date between 100 B.C.E. to 300 C.E. These were the highly valued ‘mote salah’ or false pearl, a drawn bead that has a distinctive orange-red color. Similar beads were also found at Oc-eo in Funan (68 to 550 C.E.).
Javanese beads of the Classical Period (250 - 1500 C.E.) draw on the glass making technologies of India in the monochrome drawn glass beads and some of the striped beads. The extra-ordinary mosaic and combed beads found in East Java show influence from late Persian glass techniques. These large beads are now thought to have been made in Java and dated at 600 to 900 C.E. An interesting side note is that some of the distinctive striped beads and ‘double eye’ beads found in Central Java and dated from 750 C.E. are similar - perhaps identical - to caches of beads now in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The finds were north in Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The glass was analyzed and it was concluded that it was not produced in the area but was identical, in all physical respects and construction, to glass being produced in Persia in the period of 750 to 1000 C.E.
How these ancient beads are found is well known. For example, Java has been densely populated for a long time. Being strategically positioned for trade between China and India gave Sumatra and Java great power and wealth. This led to several high cultures developing in this area, the Sumatran kingdom of Srivijaya (3rd century C.E.) and the subsequent Javanese dynasties. The Indonesian archipelago sits on the ‘Ring of Fire’, meaning that there are frequent volcanic events and earthquakes. Over hundreds of years volcanic eruptions routinely covered the countryside with ash and things were buried. This area is heavily terraced for wet rice cultivation. During particularly heavy monsoons heavy erosion can occur and previously buried artifacts see the light of day. The island of Java is densely populated and there is much poverty. A rice farmer repairing broken terraces due to heavy runoff, discovering such treasure on his land will take advantage of it, government strictures notwithstanding. The prized finds were ceramics, gold, statuary and other bronze pieces from the Classical Period of Java (650-1500 C.E.). For a long time beads were thrown aside as trinkets of little value.
It was in the early Eighties that a few ancient Javanese beads began appearing in the antique markets in Java and Bali. These quickly attracted bead collectors and more beads appeared. Unfortunately, starting with the late Eighties and the Nineties, enterprising people began reshaping some ancient glass into more saleable forms and eventually the inevitable reproduction beads from East Java. To the trained eye the difference between the authentic and the reproduction is readily apparent.
The term ‘Roman bead’ is one that is rather loosely used. Beads were produced before the Roman empire by the Phoenicians, in Egypt, and in several bead centers in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Romans took up bead making to the extent that their expanding empire took in the bead making centers of the time. Some Roman bead making would eventually inspire the early Venetian industry. The most significant bead production was carried on in Ptolemaic Egypt, and the Islamic bead makers from the Seventh century on. These Islamic beads are the ones most commonly called ‘Roman’ beads notwithstanding that they date from a period after the fall of Rome.
Djenne, Mali in West Africa, is the source of many ancient and medieval beads on the African continent. Djenne was an independent city-state of the Bozo people from 800 to 1043 CE. The city was moved between the 11th and the 13th Century after it had converted to Islam. There is a distinctive form of eye-bead that has been found in the Djenne area that has confounded researchers for many years. They are believed now to have arrived via the trans-Sahara trade routes from Fustat, or Old Cairo (P. Francis). J.D. Allen suggests that claims of great antiquity, such as Phoenicia (1550 to 300 BCE) or Ptolemaic Egypt (300 to 30 BCE) remain to be proven. More likely is these beads were an import of early or late Islamic beads (632 to 1258 CE), or the Islamic glassworkers themselves. He further suggests that some may in fact be early Venetian beads.
Native African glass beads
Through recent history few glass beads have been made in Africa itself, not counting the Mediterranean area. Many of the beads that have been made copy imported European, ie., Venetian, design. Noteworthy are the wound glass beads of Bida, Nigeria; Mauritanian powder glass beads (Kiffa beads); and Bodom glass beads and Krobo powder glass beads from Ghana. These date variously from the last two Centuries.
Venetian and Dutch Beads
The Eastern Mediterranean bead centers were largely destroyed during the Mongol invasions and the Crusades from the 10th to the 12th Century. It was in Venice, or more precisely, on the island of Murano in 1291 that European bead production began. This was through more efficient techniques by drawing the glass thus producing many beads of the same size and color. By the 16th and the 17th Centuries Venetian beads were finding their way to West Africa and the Americas. In this period of time the glass making and glass working techniques improved greatly. Beads of complex design, such as the legendary chevron, were being produced.
Other countries in Europe were taking note of the success of the Venetians in this new industry and attempted to lure bead makers away from Venice. Holland, France, Austria and others wanted to have their own bead industry. Holland was the first to create its own glass bead centers and produced beads in the style of the Venetians. They successfully produced monochrome glass beads, for example, beads in pentagonal sections, the “mulberry” design, some with simple decoration, and others until about 1750.
The greatest challenge to Venice would be the bead industry that developed in Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic. Stone workers there became glass workers when an inexpensive replacement for pyrope garnets had to be found. By the beginning of the 18th Century the first red glass beads were being faceted. Soon this business spread in the surrounding area and other gemstones were being imitated in glass. However, the Bohemian bead makers found their greatest success in copying native African beads, glass beads and ornaments for the Islamic world, and a wide variety of beads for India. They became hugely successful.
The first half of the 20th Century brought Communism and great disruption of the Bohemian bead business. Many Bohemian bead makers fled to Austria and Germany. Daniel Swarovski settled in Innsbuck and produced the very fine Austrian cut crystal beads. He also helped re-settle other Czech bead makers in Bavaria. Originally the German bead production had also grown out of stone working. The earliest efforts were re-worked Venetian beads from the 14th Century. Blown and silvered beads, false pearls and rosary beads were produced through the 1800s.
Other European Beads
Limited numbers of beads were produced in Russia, Belgium, Britain and Spain. The beads that Columbus brought to the new world were produced in Spain. In France bead making began in the 15th Century and was soon producing imitation pearl and black mourning beads. In the last century seed beads and other ornamental beads were still being produced for the French fashion industry.