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Beads are thought to be one of the earliest forms of trade between members of the human race. It is believed that bead trading was one of the reasons why humans developed language. Beads are said to have been used and traded for most of mankind's history.
Beading comes from both African and Indigenous cultures. For the Indigenous, after beads were first introduced to the Native Americans by the Europeans in the 16th century, they became a staple of Native American art. For Africans, the Krobo and Ashanti people have long been responsible for crafting beautiful, vibrant glass beads. Today, beads from this region can be identified by distinctive attributes as being one of four main styles: clear/translucent beads, powdered glass beads, painted glass beads, and seed beads.
Beads have been made of glass for over 5,000 years. The discovery of fire was the essential step in glass bead making. There is evidence as early as 2340-2180 BC in Mesopotamia of a method known as "core-forming" where they used a metal mandrel with pieces of glass held over a flame.
The art of making glass beads originated in Venice, Italy. We know that this area had a flourishing industry in the production of beads by the early 14th century. From there the production of beads moved to other parts of Europe, the most notable being Bohemia, France, England, and Holland.
Millefiori (thousand flower) beads from Venice, Italy were one of the most commonly traded beads, and are commonly known as "African trade beads." They were produced by creating flowers or stripes from glass canes that were then cut and moulded onto a core of solid color.
The earliest bead dates are debated between 300,000-100,000 B.C.E. and 43,000-38,000 B.C.E. Early beadwork used thread to attach beads together. These threads varied based on materials available, but ranged from sinew to fiber threads from plants
More complex glass beads, such as mosaic or 'millefiori' beads, were developed in Mesopotamia about 3,500 years ago. Further refined by the Syrians and Egyptians, these sophisticated beads were traded as far north as Scandinavia
Beads are playing an integral role in repairing cultural ties and spiritual beliefs to Indigenous artists. Beadwork has been, and will continue to be significant in representing Indigenous resiliency as well as highlighting the distinct cultural value of Indigenous people.
Beads were first made in Africa from organic materials like bone, shells and seeds many thousands of years ago. In more recent times, imported glass beads dating back to the mid-11th century have been found in present-day South Africa and Zimbabwe
The first glass beads arrived in West Africa before the 15th century via the trans-Saharan trade with North Africa. The importance of such trade was recorded in the writings of Arab travelers during the 12th to 14th centuries. By medieval times, the trans-Saharan trade was well established
The Krobo and Ashanti people have long been responsible for crafting beautiful, vibrant glass beads. Today, beads from this region can be identified by distinctive attributes as being one of four main styles: clear/translucent beads, powdered glass beads, painted glass beads, and seed beads
Beads were first made in Africa from organic materials – like bone, shells and seeds – many thousands of years ago. In more recent times, imported glass beads dating back to the mid-11th century have been found in present-day South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Beads are an integral part of African history from time immemorial. They function as money, they possess power, they indicate wealth, they are spiritual talismans, and they form coded messages.
Waist beads have a long history in Africa and are worn for various reasons and purposes. They are a symbol and celebration of womanhood, sexuality, femininity, fertility, healing, spirituality, body shaping, first menses, protection, seduction, and wealth, amongst other things.
Beads also are an integral part of African history from time immemorial. They function as money, they possess power, they indicate wealth, they are spiritual talismans, and they form coded messages.
Different tribes used different colors and patterns. The Maasai people of Kenya create beaded work that exemplify cultural values and traditions. The women of the group are in charge of beading. The Maasai have been beading for a very long time with beads created from clay, wood, bone, copper, and brass.
Native American beadwork like quill is a decorative art form. Utilitarian goods such as clothing, dwellings, horse gear and utensils were at one time ornamented with quill work and beadwork. Over time, the older ways of life have disappeared. Even though clothing and dwelling styles have changed, and the original needs for horse gear and certain utensils have vanished, decorative beadwork continues to flourish. As Indigenous peoples encountered white settlers, clothing styles changed. For example, articles of clothing previously made from buffalo skins began to be made from wool or cotton. Although the basic materials changed, Native Americans continued to decorate their clothing with beadwork. During the mid-1800s, trade goods such as beads were readily available. www.kshs.org/kansapedia/native-american-beadwork/17880
This fascinating 5 part series 'World on a String' by Diana Friedberg, documents and highlights beading from the earliest evolutionary evidence through to modern day culture and design from around the world.
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