THE MANUFACTURING OF ANCIENT STONE BEADS


3 different kinds of sweat
The final appearance of a stone bead is a product of 3 kinds of sweat:
The sweat of human effort, the sweat of generations of human skin and finally the sweat of the Earth.

 

THE SWEAT OF THE EARTH


Old beads develop on the surface a kind of tarnish called patina.
Basically there are two kinds of patina: One made by time and earth and the other by time and human skin.

First we will look at what I have called the sweat of earth. This patina forms over decades and is a result of
soil, dirt and temperature differences causing a chemical reaction with the surface of the stone bead.


Excavation patina on ancient beads
Excavation patina is the term for the kind of patina a bead will get, not from wearing,
but from being buried in the ground for centuries. The patina can be divided in two kinds:
The one that is created by the beads contact with the earth and another more subtle
shine made through the beads contact with air in for thousands of years! The first kind of patina
I have chosen to call the sweat of Earth.

3 kinds of earth - acidic, alkaline or neutral PH-value
There are essentially 3 kinds of sol where beads can sleep their often millenia long sleep:

Alkaline, acidic or PH-neutral soil



23 * 9 mm

Displayed above you can see a beautiful ancient semi translucent agate bead.
The unusual brownish and yellow colours are only on the surface of the bead.
In this more rare case I think you will agree with me that the outcome is awesome!

This clouding is probably caused by minerals like calcium,  leeching
into the surface of the bead during the long time it was buried in an often moist
ground with a PH value either below or above 7.

 
It is rare that a bead get more beautiful by the contact with the sweat of the earth.
The edged bead displayed below is an example of a more normal outcome of a
millennia meeting of earth and bead:
 


Here you can see another ancient bead that has been coloured by the soil.
Note the whitish dots on the bead:



Below is a photo of a large carnelian bead. This bead could easily be
categorised as a new one, were it not for the 'miscolouring' signature left by the
embrace of resting for hundreds of years in the acidic soil:




Etched  burmese carnelian bead with oil & gas patina

63 * 10,5 mm

Displayed above you can see an etched elongated carnelian bead from the lower part of the Kachin state.
The strong white coloring of the surface is not made by strong PH-values. In this case a
combinition of oil, gas and pressure has done the job. Burma is a land full of natural resources
such as oil and gas and therefore we here find quite a few beads with the miscoloring showed above.
 
Excavation beads found in PH-neutral surroundings
In case of a bead resting in soil with a PH-value below or above 7,
there will be a clear chemical evidence on the surface of the beads meeting with the soil.
Even if it is not colored, as shown in the above displayed beads, the fine and subtle
grooves made in the polishing proces will slowly wanish as time goes by. In case of beads
who have been sleeping in PH-neutral soil or even much more so in sand, the surface
of the beads will look like they were made yesterday! Then only one thing can determine
whether the beads have been made a thousand years ago or recently and that is the sheen!
Even beads who have been in PH-neutral sand are different from newly made ones.
They have a softer shine, a softer reflection when seen in a strong source of light, especially sunlight.


Burmese Sulemani agate bead
 
Above is displayed a wonderfull ancient Burmese or Indian produced  bead who has been
found in sandy earth in Matehtilay, Maline in Burma. Most of Burma has acidic earth.
Lower Burma has some small areas with alkaline earth. However the middle part of Burma,
like Matehtilay has a big area where the sandy soil is having a neutral PH-value. In this case
the only give away of the true age of the bead is its its soft sheen.

PH- map of Myanmar


Red = acid, blue = alkaline, yellow = neutral
The bead displayed above has together with the beads
displayed below been found in the yellow area.


Click on picture for larger image

Excavation patina
If a bead has been buried in the a PH- neutral ground or in a safe place like a clay pot and in a
place with no minus temperatures, it can be difficult to see whether the bead is old or new.
But still the contact with time, air with changing humidity and temperature will create
a very subttle kind of more 'soft' shine in a stone bead.



This is
an excavated pot of beads from the Harrapa culture.
Note the shine of the white and the brown bead. They look like they were new. But they are not!


It often takes an expert look to distinguish between the shine of a newly made bead and the "dusty"
patina of an ancient excavated bead. The etched bead shown below has genuine excavation patina.
This patina is however difficult to display on website pictures.



Hexagonal carnelian bead

Often these excavated beads have never or only briefly been worn.
Most probably they signified the social position of the deceased and/or
acted as a talisman or even currency in the afterlife.
 
Here you can click your way to another bead with a wonderful excavation patina.


Cracks made by a thousand cold winters
If an agate bead has been 'lucky' to 'sleep' for hundreds of years in areas where the temperature
goes below zero during winter the moisture in the bead will make small circular cracks
in the surface of the bead. This is due to the expansion of the water molecules when they turn into ice.
This beautiful sign of age is only to be seen in beads from the Himalayas and Afghanistan and
other places with frost in the winter. Beads that have dwelled in areas with hotter climates,
will not display these marks of age. The appearance of these cracks will also depend on the
hardness and porousness of the stone. A dense agate stone bead with less water inside
will even survive the winters of the Himalayas without these cracks.


  
Bhaisayaguru beads from Afghanistan with beautiful cracks
  

Now take a close look at this Dzi bead from Taiwan:

 

On the surface of the above bead you will note many small artificially made indentations designed
to imitate the frozen patina. But the cracks are not circular. This bead is a true fake!
Also note the beads dusty sheen. Due to their astronomical value, 
Dzi beads are the most commonly faked beads.  

  

THE SWEAT FROM HUMAN SKIN


Old beads develop patina not only from the meeting with mother earth. Another very important
patina is a result human sweat causing a chemical reaction with the surface of the stone bead.
Beads have most probably in all ancient cultures since the neolitic period been a focal point of magic power.
In the times, well before religion got organized, every clan had a shaman. The shaman served as a facilitating
and negotiating link between the mostly invisible spirit world and the mundane world of ordinary people.
The wearing of beads was in this context a protective act against predatory spirits in an animistic constructed
world full of spirit entities living in caves, mountains, waterfalls and trees. In all the traditions
where beads
have magic powers, the bead has to be worn directly in contact with the skin. Therefore we see a lot of
ancient beads with a surface colored by the contact of human skin.


However one generation of human contact will not do. It takes generations
of human wearing before the beads surface get this almost skin like shine.



Carnelian beads from around 1000 AD

A human polishing process stretching over generations.
The polishing of a bead is not finished the moment it leaves the tumbler or
the polishing stone of its maker
.  Then the human skin takes over the job. The human body hands over the
bead from generation to generation like a relay running in slowmo. In this way the final look
becomes a never ending process facilitated by the human skin acting as a soft abrasive.
 



The patina or soft sheen displayed on the bead above is the true "royal" sign of age.
It cannot be faked!

On this wonderful ancient banded agate bead you can see how generations
of wear has softened the bead. Also note the edges of the small crack on the right side of the bead.
This is an important signature of true age in a stone bead.  Like water at the ocean polish stones, so
does the continuous meeting of human skin and bead. There are ritual fire places in India where the job
of keeping the fire alive has been handed over from Guru to student for countless generations.
In the same way it is easy to imagine - especially in the time machine called India - that there are stone beads
out there, that has been carried on human bodies since they were born in the cradle of civilization!
 
That makes beads, not only the oldest art form, but also the oldest continuously
used and almost
non changing art form in human history. What I mean to say is: Neolithic people from 8000 years ago were
wearing the stone beads I am wearing now.
    

It can be difficult to display in a photo on a website,
but the shine on the Luk Mik bead displayed below is new.
 

 
Here is another new bead. The surface is shining bright. It has not been softened
by the contact of human skin and wear and tear. You can observe
how the surface is acting like a mirror:
 

New bead

If you compare this beads with the one displayed in the beginning of this chapter,
you can observe the difference in the reflection level. The ancient beads do not
shine like a mirror in the same way as the new ones.


 
Ancient bead, worn by generations of human beings

In order to fake the soft shine of an old bead you will sometimes encounter
beads that have been sand polished in an attempt to make them look old:


It is quite obvious that this is a fake bead. Even this photo is able to show it.

One must always examine the patina of an old bead very closely.
This patina is very difficult to duplicate. It is also important to look into
the hole and the surroundings of the hole.
 
  

THE SWEAT OF HUMAN EFFORT

 
Now we come to the actual process of making the stone beads.
In the early stages of bead making, it was a difficult thing to produce a bead.
Hence a beautiful bead was a rare thing and most probably reserved for the upper segments of society.
But with the inventions of new bead producing technologies like the polishing bag and the diamond drill
stone beads became more common and with this commonness they started a journey from the social pyramid top
to the buttom. They became a part of the middle class culture and finally landed in poorest part of society.
Today the tradition of stone bead making and
the digging for raw agate is kept alive by the Bheel's (or Bhil's)
with the simplest tools. The Bheel's are India's largest tribal community, by Gandhi called the Adivasi, the 'pure ones'.
    
The Bheel's are the aboriginals of India. They were there before the Vedic, Arian settlement.
They were the original Indus Valley people. One could say that the Bheel's simply went on a social deroute
together with their beads: from the greatness of one of the most mysterious and affluent ancient cultures
in the world to being casteless, outcast, despised by their new Vedic rulers.
As mentioned elsewhere on ancientbead.com, there probably is a link between the Buddhist
love for stone beads down to the Indus love for the same art.

 
  

Design & shape

 
The collecting and mining of the stones
The ancient artisans, especially the Indus people, went to great efforts to obtain exotic
stones for making beads of different colors, shapes and sizes.
The outstanding bead displayed below is an example of this hunt for the exotic:
 

 
As previously mentioned the Bheel's are still 'hunting' for stones in the principal mines of Gujarat, India.
These mining places have been there since the Indus Valley days! One of the methods for obtaining
these stones was searching for them in eroding cliffs. Another was to put a fire close to a cliff and then
throw water on the heated cliff. The sudden cooling would then make the heated surface crack apart.
The best collected agate pieces were then put in the sun for month to dry out.
After this drying had been completed, some of the stones
would be chosen for a special heat treatment.
 


The rough shaping of the beads

 

   

These roughouts were found on ancient sites, but they could as well have been found in modern
day Cambey in Gujarat, India.  Raw stones are chipped in shape with hammers made of water buffalo horns
in a hammering process called inverse, indirect percussion.  An iron stake or another stake of hard material is
placed in the ground at an angle of aprox. 45 degrees. The artisan sits on the ground with one knee
controlling the stake. In the left hand he holds the stone and with the right he is softly striking the bead so
that it is colliding with the stake. In this way the bead maker can chip off small flakes without braking the stone itself.
  
The design
Beads are designed in almost every shape within the limits of the available technology and the raw material.
In one end of the spectrum we can find beads that just are picked up stones that has been tumbled and holed:



But outstanding beads will always bear witness of an artistic intelligence
and effort as you can see in this crystal tiger bead below:
 



In very rare cases the artisans were composing beads through the process of
cementing different types of stones with different patterns together:


15 * 6,5 mm
Click on picture for larger version


Some archetypical bead forms
Below you will find a few of the most typical bead forms.
 


Bicone
 


Long Bicone


Hexagonal Tube
 


Round Tube


Barrel
 

Collar

Lenticular

 

Round tabular
 

Mellon

Ball

The ancient artisans looked out for 'liberating' the dormant beauty in the stone
In ancient stone beads we can often observe that the design in the raw material itself
played an important role in the decicions on how to shape the bead.

In this way t
he beauty of the natural stone patterns were revealed by their makers.

 
21 * 19 * 13 * 6 mm

As you can see in the displayed Indus Valley bead, symmetry played an important role in
choosing-creating the shape of the bead. In this bead the human made shape is following the
natural design in the stone.  
One could say that the best stone beads actually are
pieces of art  like this little bead displayed below:
 

11 * 10 * 3 mm

Often you can also find the golden angle in the motives as it is the case in this Indus bead:


17 * 14 * 4 mm

In the
magic Eye Beads the eye is almost always placed in the symmetric middle:


28 * 19 mm

or it can be placed in the golden angle position:


24 * 10 mm

The design could also take the forms of the human body into consideration. This
outstanding long agate bead has been shaped in such a way that one side is polished flat
in a bow form that makes the long bead follow the shape of the body:


83 * 12 * 8 mm

 

The polishing process



Hand grinding of the beads

Neolithic hand grinding stone

In ancient times many beads were broken in the difficult drilling process.
Therefore the polishing of the bead was done after a successful drilling of a hole. 
The polishing process before 800 AD was done by hand on different grinders, starting with
siltstone or quartzite and finalizing the work on a wooden surface. In this time consuming
process finer and finer abrasives made of agate dust or other useful materials were used.

 

21 * 8 * 6,5 mm
 

The uneven surface on this Indus Valley bead shows a polishing technique with very rough abrasives.


Tumbling - bag polishing of beads

Around 800 AD the smart Indians invented a new way of polishing beads.
Before that time every bead was shaped through hand rubbing. Now the bead makers started
to polish the beads in several numbers by putting them into a goatskin bag with water and agate
or jasper dust. Two men then rolled the bag between them on the floor for several days. 


 
Together with the invention of the diamond drill in the second century BC
bag polishing was paving the way for mass production of beads.
But mass production always comes with a price to pay.



55 * 13 mm
Displayed above is a large red Jasper bead. This old bead has been polished in a tumble.
The bead maker has in this case allowed the tumbling to create the form of the bead.
The uneven and unintended design indicates a lack of artistic effort in shaping the bead.
Displayed below is another bead with a typical 'tumbled design'. Note the soft corners of the bead.
 


Here is a non tumbled bead with more sharp edges:
 

17 * 11 mm

The time consuming process of hand rubbing the beads had one advantage
that was lost with the bag polishing: The hand shaped beads can display edges
and sharp designs like you can see in the beads displayed below:


12 * 11 mm

The same is the case with Zoomorphic, human and other distinctive designed beads;
they would loose their shape in a tumbler.


23 * 8 * 4 mm
Ancient carnelian sword bead


Of course the hand polishing of beads did not disappear.
However the hand polished beads got great competition from the mass producing 'new'
tumble technique. Here you can see a multi-faceted carnelian bead from the British period:


11 mm
 

 

The process of artificial colouring and etching

 
The transformation of agate into carnelian through heat treatment
Again I have to laud the mysterious Indus Valley people.
They invented a process of heat treatment to enhance the colour of the agate.
It was especially agate from Cambey in India that had the ability to transform into carnelian.
Here you can see the typical colour of the carnelian from Cambey:


Cambey carnelian

The reason for the Indian Ratanpur agates ability to transform into carnelian is the high content of iron oxide
in the stone. The rusty colour of the iron oxide makes the grey agate reddish through heating.

Cooked or uncooked agate beads
After being dug out the agate is divided into two types, those which should and those which
should not be heat treated for color enhancement. If the agate displayed a beautiful and translucent shine
in itself, it was not heat treated. Such a bead you can see below.
This kind of agate beads are often referred to as 'uncooked'.


17 * 14 * 6 mm

To enhance the color the agate is then put in the sun
several times often over several month to remove the moisture in the stone.
After that it is put into clay pots and placed in small rectangular low walled brick enclosures.
Then cow or goat dung was placed all around the pots and the whole thing is turned on fire.
The agate is then very slowly heated to a temperature around 340 degrees Celcius.
 
The heat from the fire transforms the agate into a beautiful brownish or reddish orange stone with
often fascinating surface patterns.


25 * 6 mm


But it seems that the Indus Valley people tended to prefer
carnelian beads with an even colour like the one you can see here:


 27 * 9 mm


Agate stones with relatively uniform porosity, will display a uniform colour after enhancement.
But the uniformity of agate also depends on how uniform the concentration of iron is in the bead.
 
The making of sardonyx beads
Agate with alternating bands of porosity, will also display different colour bands after the treatment.
This variety of agate with its different bands from red, orange and even white is called sardonyx:


Uncooked banded Agate versus Sardonyx


Below you can enjoy a stunning translucent sardonyx bead:
 

34 * 8 mm
Click on picture for larger version

I have never seen a bead with such natual blood red colour.
Maybe the most beautiful translucent bead in my collection!


 The history of carnelian production
This invention of transforming grey agate into carnelian is very old.
We can find heat treated carnelian as far back as the Neolithic period:


Neolithic disk bead from Sahara, Africa

Here in these very early Indus Valley beads we can observe a beautiful blood like colour of carnelian:
 


As we go back in history we go from science to magic. We do not know what
kind of magic the carnelian beads had for the Indus people, but written text from
the contemporary Mesopotamia states that carnelian with its deep red colour was related to
blood purifying and to health.


 
The development of brown and black onyx with white stripes


Bhaisayayguru sulemani bead

The elaborate treatment that turned this bead into what is commonly known as a Sulemani agate bead
was most probably invented by the Indus Valley people more than four thousand years ago.
Banded brown/black and white agate is very rare in natural form. Most agate is in its raw form
whitish or grayish like you can see here in this 'uncooked' Indus Valley bead:


 
Maybe this bead was made before the invention of heat treatment of beads...
Or maybe the creators just liked the translucent whitish shine of this stone.

To get an onyx bead as the brown and white banded Bhaisayaguru stone you see in the first picture,
the Indians  began soaking the agate stone into either honey or sugar water.
The sugar is absorbed by the darker and/or more  porous layers, but not by the denser white layers. 
The heating process caramelizes the sugar turning the porous layers either black or brown as you
can see in this bead:

But as always there is a price to pay. The transformation of agate into onyx tends to spoil the
translucent shine of a bead. It is rare to come across a bead with translucent bands with black stripes.
Maybe that is why the Indus people chose not to treat a wonderful bead with
translucent bands with white stripes like the one you can see here:

 


The alteration into Black Onyx
More than 2000 years ago a new technique enabled the bead makers to go one step further.
They discovered that if a sugar soaked stone was placed in sulphuric acid, the sugar would carbonize,
making a beautiful black colour instead of the brown. Often this intentionally enhanced banding was amplified
through a techniques of oxygen deprivation during the heating process.
The result of this you can see here:


In this period India was predominantly Buddhist. Maybe that is why the black or brown sulemani onyx
bead is the most wanted prayer bead for Buddhist all over the world even today.

Etching of beads




The decoration on the ancient bead dispalyed above was etched with soda.
The etching of beads has been known since the Indus Valley and Harappan Civilization,
dated to 2500- 1500 BC. Under the rule of Chandragupta Mauria, the Maurian Period,
dating from 300 BC to 100 AD the culture of etched beads reached its quantitative peak.

The etched beads on this page are predominantly from this period.
From Chandragupta Maurias grandson, Ashoka The Great (274 BC) India was ruled by Buddhism.
Still today the etched beads are especially loved by the Buddhist.



In the illustration above you will see an Indus Valley bead with an original, natural pattern.
The bead below is artificial coloured as an attempt to mimic the natural patterns in the Indus bead.

The tradition of etching beads rose as a consequence of the desire to make beads with
interesting and beautiful patterns. Since it is difficult to find and 'carve out' natural and beautiful patterns
of stone one could make a shortcut by intentionally enhancing the banding and/or etching patterns into the bead.
The technology of bead etching was invented in the Indus Valley period.

 
17 * 5 mm

Her you see an unique and perfect  translucent agate with natural banding from the Indus Valley
civilization 3000 - 1500 B.C.  It was found
in 1942 in Harappa, (Pakistan) at great depth.


When you look at the etched copy and compare it with the Indus bead above,
it is weird to imagine that the market value of the etched 'copy' is
higher than the original un-etched Indus bead.


But the science of 'etching' soon went beyond imitating natural patterns.
After some time the artisans developed symbolic and religious signs that went far beyond
what patterns in stone could express:
 


The 'etching' itself is done by putting soda on the surface of the bead. The soda penetrates
the surface and leaves an almost indestructible smooth white line. Already in ancient time
these etched beads became the top of the pop. They were traded all over the ancient world.



Often colour alteration and etching went together as displayed in the etched, black ball bead above.

 

The bead holes


The hole of an ancient bead is an important way to recognize and classify a bead.
The drilling process is the most critical step in the art of bead making. The first rule is: make it or brake it!
Many ancient sites bear witness to all the attempts of making a bead littered like waste around the
artisans workshop.
In consequence of the danger of braking the bead in manufacture the beads hole was drilled
just after the bead's roughout has been fashioned. Otherwise the artisan could have faced the tragedy
of breaking a full polished bead he maybe had used a month to work on.
   
The making of a bead hole
As in the example shown below the hole were drilled
from both sides to avoid cracking either of the bead's apexes.



In the above picture of ancient crystal beads you can clearly
see the joints in the centre of each bead.

In this translucent golden carnelian bead you can see an example of an extreme joint:



The opening of the hole - the aperture - is also an important part of the bead's secret story.
If this part of the hole is not concentric, it could indicate that the hole was hand drilled,
like the bead displayed in the picture below.

 

If the opening of the hole is perfectly round it usually indicates the help
of some kind of machinery, like a bow drill for example.

Normally. a big hole denotes a very old bead. In ancient days, arcane drilling technology
made it difficult to make small holes and the bead strings, made out of natural materials,
were made thicker so that they would not break easily.

Holes shaped by generations of strings
When a bead has been worn on a string for several generations the hole
will slowly be polished over time. If the stone is relatively soft or the string
is made out of a hard material, it can result in the kind of oval shape seen below:

Due to the string the hole can also develop a triangular shape:

 

This bead also shows the polishing effect beads have on each other when put together on a string.
The ends of the above bead have been polished flat due to centuries of coexistence on the same string.
 

The importance of the hole in the verification of a beads age
If we once again take a closer look at the bead with the triangular hole,
it is obvious that the hole is rough and edged.
Most proabably it is because the bead is a fake.
 
An ideal bead hole should look like this:
 


In the smooth surface in the inside of the hole we find the true signatures of age.


Now take a look at the bead displayed below.
Look closely at the hole... Is it smooth or not...
Sometimes it looks like the surface of the bead is old.
But when you look closer at the surroundings
of the hole it is not smooth at all:
 

In the picture below you will see one of my oldest beads.
It is from the Indus Valley culture, 3000 - 1000 BC:

 

Especially the Indus Valley bead culture made perfectly straight and beautiful holes.
Here are some more Indus Valley bead holes to be enjoyed:

   

Here you will see  perfect holes made by one of the world's first bead makers!


In reality. it is very difficult to decipher a bead's age and origin from just a single characteristic.
This is often especially true for the ancient beads of Greater India since they were exported over large distances.
A bead is very easy to carry and goes wherever a human being goes. Furthermore, Greater India was the melting pot of
a huge variety of different cultures and societies which had been coexisting side by side for millennia.
All of these cultures used beads, but their bead making technology was not identical. Some cultures like the Harappan
produced far more intricate beads than many of the societies that followed.


The History of Holes

Drilling technique of Neolithic beads
The Neolithic beads were produced with the simplest tools!

Here you can see the drills used for the pecking of the holes.
The pecking was done from both sides of the bead.

Most beads from the Neolithic period are not too long.
When you look at the drills above it gives sense that the beads were mostly tabular:



It has not been possible to replicate the ancient neolithic way of making holes.
On the archeological sites we find a lot of broken beads that tells us that this kind of
bead making also was difficult for the Neolithic people.

Indus Valley bead holes


Pecked bead holes can also be seen here in these very early
Indus Valley beads
(Around 3000 BC)

In these bicone carnelian agate beads from the early Indus Valley period
(Around 2500 BC)
, one can observe how the beads, from the flat tabular design
have started to grow in length. This of course makes the bead hole more difficult to make.

The pecking hole in these beads has taken shape like a rough hour glass:




Click on picture for large version


Longer holes in longer beads
Soon after the time of these beads, in the Copper bronze age,
 the technique of drilling longer holes was developed. 
This development first began in West Asia and the Indus Valley.

The bow drill was invented as early as 4000 BC
It is still in use in the time machine called India!



Bow drill

 With the invention of the bow drill the tabular disk beads dissappeared.
In the artistic strive for the sublime it became uninteresting to create flat beads.
In the Bronce Age the bow drill started
the evolution of longer beads with longer holes.
It was now time for the long slender tubular beads to take over and fascinate
the artisans and their customers.
Here is a tubular carnelian Indus bead:


Left hole

25 * 7 mm


Right hole

The holes in this bead were made with one of the new type of drills that were invented at that time.
It could be a stone drill made of jasper or chert, it could have been a drill made of copper with abrasives
at the end of the drill. In the bead displayed above the left and the right hole are not of the same diameter.
It could indicate that the drills used for the perforation only could drill half of the way through the bead
before they were destroyed in the process.
 However the drilling of longer holes was
still very difficult and time consuming.

Drilling technology and length of the beads
The above example shows clearly how the drilling technology itself plays a major role in the shaping
of a bead. The artistic drive will always be to create something outstanding, something that surpasses what
has been done before.  That means, seen in relation to the development of  drilling technology, that inventions
of new drilling methods will spur a development of longer and longer beads. That is exactly what happened
in the Indus culture of Harappa.
In Harappa, the artisans started out with the simplest technique,
just pecking at it and popping a hole through a relatively flat tabular bead. Then we can observe
drilling with tapered stone drills that were just a little harder than the bead stone itself. In the end
the Harrapans developed exquisite drilling techniques that were especially designed to perforate
long bead stones. The Harappans special drilling technique was kept as a secret. This allowed them
to make beads that were longer and thinner than any other contemporary culture. These long slender
delicate beads were loved all over the contemporary world. The favorite material for these beads
was carnelian in uniform colour. In the Mesopotamian Royal Cemetery of Ur, 2450 BC we find a lot
of these beads.

The invention of the diamond drill
Around 600 BC the diamond drill was invented in India.
With the diamond drill it was now possible to drill a hole more than 200 times faster than before!

From being a very time consuming and often unsuccesful procedure,
it became a piece of cake to drill the bead holes.


A new diamond drilled hole


29 * 4,5 mm

As one can observe in the pictures above the holes became much smaller with the invention
of the diamond drill. It became also possible to make much slimmer and large beads due to the
small holes.  As a rough thumb rule one could say that a beads age can be seen in
the diameter of the hole. If the hole is large the bead is relatively older.


 

Technology and Beads  


Every time a new machine technology makes it easier to mass produce beads, they begin a
journey down the stratas of society. If a certain type of bead gets easy to produce it automatically
looses its charm as a talisman for the upper segments of society as it gains momentum as a desirable object
for the masses. Only the sublime, the at a given time rare beads will continue their enchantment of the
upper classes. In this way the historical devellopment of new bead producing technologies finally killed the
agate bead as a leading object of desire. First of all other materials such as prescious stones took the
lead and left agate and similar more available stones types such as jasper in the dark.

 However, the new machine and other mass producing technologies did not defeat the semiprecious
stone beads in a linear process. Here is an example: In the end of the Indus Valley era the hunt for
exotic stone bead material counteracted the mass producing trend. As beads became increasingly easier
to produce the stone material itself became more and more important. This tendency is clerly demonstrated
on this page displaying my late Indus Valley beads.  The artisans also reacted to the challenge of machine
technology with their desire to create the sublime to invent more and more sophisticated ways to create
beads in odd forms or in forms difficult to make such as for example very long and slender beads.
More and more sophisticated ways of etching and artificially colouring of the beads also became an artistic
drive that peaked in the creation and devellopment of the marvellous dZi beads.

Today stone beads have again come into the lime light of the sublime. The new entry pass is age.
If a bead is ancient it is automatically again restored to its former glory.

Unfortunately there are many beads out there with false entry passes.   
 

 

 




 

 

 

 


 

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Contact: Gunnar Myhlman -
Gunnars@mail.com