The philosopher's bead stone
Oseberg Viking ship - Norway
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Let me straight away confess to you that www.ancientbead.com is not a scientific site. I am not a bead scientist and do not make any claims of being a perfect bead expert.
Not to be framed within a traditional scientist mindset gives on the other hand more freedom to explore different theories as ways of stringing together information in meaningful ways.
All the thoughts presented here are based on evidence, not evidence from books alone, but evidence also validated from my body being present for years together in the countries from where the Beads have been sourced. Knowledge from books and from people who have their information from books alone is not sufficient.
If you don't have extensive 'bodily' experience, if you have not traveled in a third class bus in a third world country, your information is in danger of being out of touch with reality.
I furthermore admit that not all of my essayistic thoughts are not fully backed by sufficient evidence. However I do feel confident that many of them can point towards right directions and slowly be substantiated with more and more evidence. If not so, I will only be too happy to deconstruct my theories.
I hereby invite you to comment on my writings and give your opinion as
a valuable gift to this site and the exploration of ancient beads.
Here is my email once more: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beads and meta- consciousness
As Peter Francis, Jr. said, the study of ancient beads is really the study of ancient people. However even the scientist know far less about ancient beads than he is willing to admit. Ancient beads are covered in un-knowing. When you look at the scientific bead books with their time tables, it is quite easy to observe that much of the age definitions in these books are qualified guesswork - not so far from what I have stated is my approach, just with the little difference that I am aware of this fact.
So Peter Francis is right, but because of the difficulties of ascertain the exact age and production place of ancient beads, the beads also becomes projection fields for our own self.
Our own unknown observer projects itself into the dark bead holes, and the scientific all knowing attitude becomes, instead of revealing the secret of the beads, a portrait of the ego of the observer himself.
No scientist can jump his own subjective shadow in the process of scientific studies. If he himself is not meta-aware about this fact, then the study of beads will point only one finger at the bead and three fingers at his, for himself not revealed ego.
So the study of ancient beads is really a two way study of human nature.
A PRAISE TO THE SCARRED BEAD
Etched carnelian bead - 18 * 8 mm
I must confess that in many cases I prefer beads with scars and marks of wear and tear.
Such beads have the wrinkles of an old mans face.
They are signatures left by lifes lived as time goes by.
A perfect bead is not a natural bead in the sense that it cannot
mirror the beautiful imperfection of a mature human being.
The perfect looking 'ancient' beads are furthermore more easy to copy.
It is far more difficult to fake a bead like the one displayed above. The wrinkles are too many and too personal for the faker to make look convincing.
A bead with the scars of time has lived often lived more than thousand years
together with people from all statas of society.
The greek historian Megastehenes wrote, that Indians according
to his knowledge were the most kind, honest and helpfull people he knew of.
One must not forget that greater India was a peacefull, non-violent Buddhist empire for a long time. Before that it was the land of the Indus culture, the only known culture in world history, that with toy-like weapons had found other solutions to social conflicts than violence. Mahavir and the Jains bear wittnes to this ancient culture.
Maybe ... who knows .. viberation from these golden times has charged
the old scarred bead you see above by pious Jains, Buddhist and Hindus,
who kept it as amulets
in close contact on their skin - close to the heart.
The scarred bead has in this way been charged with viberations from noble intentions and good hearts for many generations. .. and maybe ...who knows, been in contact with a fully realized being.
EXCAVATION BEADS AND SOME THOUGHTS ON THE POWER OF DZI
Fake or not?
Take a look on the wonderful Burmese Beads displayed above. If one looks at the line of light the age patina produces across these beads, it has exactly the right softness of shine and is uniform across all the beads. This soft patina is impossible to reproduce in modern faking. A new bead has after polishing a hard shine. When fakers try to hide this hard shine, they often tend to make the surface of the bead look 'dusty'.
Faked beads often come in a lot and they all look alike. Here all the beads are different in shape, making and patterns.
If one observes the beads under a magnifying glass, all the small marks where the beads were sanded with extremely fine emery paper or something similar are still visible. Kevin Ball, a friend of mine and a bead expert is of the opinion that these beads are new. He states:
If they had been buried for thousands of years I don't think the marks would be as clearly defined if visible at all, as natural acids present in the soil slowly etch the beads over millennia, and marks that fine would long have disappeared.
I went back to the bead people in Myanmar with this valuable information from Kevin. The bead diggers then told me that these beads were found in PH-neutral, sandy ground, and that is the reason for their seemingly new surface. The bead sellers offered me to take the beads back, but summing up all the evidence I so far had got, I chose to keep the beads. On my next trip I encountered a lot of fake beads made by contemporary Burmese bead makers, and they were all of altogether a lower quality seen from the level of craftsmanship.
As passionate bead collectors we will often come across beads where there is doubt concerning their age. 90% of the ancient beads we encounter, we can see within a split second if the beads are ancient or not. In the case of the remaining 10% there will always be a doubt.
We have to live with that doubt.
In the case of the beads displayed above I chose to believe in the beads,
but I can not be sure.
The price matters
Additional we always have to consider the cost price of the beads. If the price is low, it is a good indication of the absence of fraud. No one would bother to work hard to produce an extraordinary beautiful fake ancient bead and then sell it for 5 USD.
Alone seen from the level of artistic skill, it would be quite costly to produce the wonderful beads displayed above today. To select out of tons of raw material the right piece of agate and then call out the special artistic and/or divine patterns, would be a challenging job for a contemporary bead maker.
Only few people today master the art of 'invoking the divine patterns' out of each individual bead stone. Normally fake beads are made in a lot where they all look mass produced and identical.
To make a high quality ancient fake bead is a rather costly affair.
The insane prices for DZIbeads and to a lesser extent etched beads, have made the trade and collection of this type of beads vulnerable to high tech copy production, especially from Taiwan.
The really good fakes are made only for these types of beads and primarily in the price range of 20.000 USD and above.
However it is still impossible to make a perfect fake DZI-bead that can elude a real Tibetan DZI-dealer or a professional western collector. (Maybe one day the cheaters will succeed and that will be the day when DZI-bead owners will lose billions of dollars.) To produce a contemporary bead with the right excavation patina is even more difficult.
When the fake-makers produce DZI-beads, they try to copy the patina of wear and tear made by generations of use. They do not bother about making 'new' excavation beads. I dare here to say that it is more difficult to recreate excavation patina than to simulate patina from wear and tear. Furthermore potential new collectors and buyers with lesser experience will look at the beads displayed above and think that they are new. They will tend to prefer the old dusty and worn out look of the fake bead.
There will be more excavation beads in the future
My guess is that the global community of bead collectors will encounter more and more of newly excavated beads in the future. The number of passionate bead collectors is increasing worldwide and the amount of beads that have been in permanent circulation and hence have marks and patina made from constant use is more or less constant. When the increasing demand for ancient beads drives up prices, it becomes more and more interesting for unauthorized diggers to excavate ancient sites to look for beads. Here they will find a lot of beads who were never used, but rather stored away as treasures or just kept in the home as animistic protections against evil eyes and bad spirits.
Whether this new kind of digging is either a good or a bad development I leave to people who think that this world can be understood, captured and controlled with strong unison opinions.
Beads are the perfect dialogue partners for having philosophic thoughts. It is amazing to watch how the biggest and most self blind egos often can hide in the smallest of bead holes. I could in this context easily mention some names in the global bead community. However I will start with myself. When I look into a bead hole, I peep into my own nature.
To know that one does not know, is essential in life and in Bead collecting too.
That is why I can say about myself that I can only truly SEE a new bead arrival in my collection after a time span of minimum 6 month. Before that time my evaluation is colored by the excitement of the hunt and even greed. I WANT to believe that this new trophy is a genuine ancient catch. After half a year it becomes evident that is was NOT an ancient treasure, but the patina of 'Maya'.
So, let’s return to the newly excavated 'new-ancient' beads we are going to encounter in the future from all kind of shady sources. Is it bad? Is it good?
There are many examples where previous colonial countries have been collecting old or ancient artifacts outside their own borders, especially in third world countries.
Was it bad or was it good?
Bad things can pave the way for good things to happen
Had we not in the nineteen century done this 'looting', many ancient artifacts would have been lost today.
When Denmark 'stole' the ancient saga scriptures from Iceland, they saved these scriptures from annihilation. Some of the sagas written on leather were at that time transformed into boots by the local population. They did not at all appreciate their own cultural heritage.
The Acropolis in Athens is deteriorating due to air pollution. Only the statues and frescos that were 'looted' from there are spared from this sad destiny.
In Afghanistan, even in this moment, the Taliban is actively destroying the country’s abundant Grecco- Buddhist art heritage. If they come across a Buddha statue so far hidden in the sand, they will repeat the story from Bamiyan.
I recently went to the National Museum in Rangoon in Burma. All rooms in the museum were covered in darkness. There were no light bulbs to display the sad fact that there was nothing there worth looking at, at least not compared to the living pagodas of the country. At least they shine full of light, gold and devotion and have continuously done so since ancient times.
Private versus public collections
Around 90% of the world’s ancient art is on the hand of private collectors.
Only 10% of the world’s ancient artifacts are displayed in museums. Many of these museums, especially in third world countries, are not capable of taking proper care of these precious artifacts. They are far better off in the hands of private collectors.
The possibility of having private collections of old and ancient art is also an important factor in the cultivation of the interest in global history. Collectors go to museums. They write books about their interest. They read history books. They make websites with a lot of information. In this way they generate a field of historic awareness that resonates into the media and internet world too. They make ancient art valuable and history an interesting subject for even the lower middle class. Furthermore, due to the hype it makes when enormous sums of money are offered for ancient art, a ring of preservation and protection is created around it.
One could argue that all collecting of ancient art should be open and legal, so that scientists, archeologists, public and private institutions and museums could collaborate with private collectors in gathering maximum information about our global world heritage past. The archeologists tend to view their subject as a 'private-public' affair, not for the common man to participate in. However these people cannot exist without a general public interest in ancient history and their work as such. If people collect antiques, they create awareness, also political. They influence governments to fund more money to museums and historical and archeological institutions.
In my case I am only talking about old beads. Nobody seems to bother about these small insignificant stones...
Good things pave the road for bad things to come and vice versa. On these roads of silk and robbery, beads have always traveled, even if they had a stopover for a thousand years one meter below the molded surface of the obvious, political correct and fixed opinions.
So here is 'my opinion', written on a fleeting globe as my desk: Beads were meant to travel... from generation to generation as visual ambassadors, as a relay handed over from generation to generation, reminding us of something we have in common since the days we lived in caves: When we look at an ancient crafted stone bead, we, here in the oldest human art form, can recognize beauty!
That is why I have made www.ancientbead.com
My joy of collecting made me interested in ancient history, and my website make others interested too. I guess it worked the same way for Kevin Ball too. This is our way to walk the talk.
Actually we don't own these beads. We are their custodians in the sense that they will outlive us by far. We will disappear and they will travel on.
Yes, beads are great travelers!
Let me here give a good tip to the western collector. At the same time it can serve as a warning to the eastern collector: 'Board the train before it is too late once again!'
Collecting mainstream beads or beads of beauty
It is still possible to purchase ancient unetched beads of unheard esthetic beauty in Asia and the east for reasonable prices. The rising third world middle class collectors have yet not cultivated an eye that makes them able to recognize the refined artistic skills of their ancestors. The nuveau riche middle class man of the east will, with a little over generalization, go for the etched bead, the black bead and the big bead, no matter how it looks seen from an artistic point of view.
Furthermore this new type of first generation middle class collector is parroting the trend of Tibetan Buddhist traditions, but without the deeper knowledge these traditions incorporate.
Let me here make a related comment. Most bead collectors are as mentioned, primarily collecting etched beads. However in my view, the making of etched beads marked a fall from the peak of artistic bead production.
As evidence for this 'opinion' or fleeting viewpoint, I refer to the late Indus beads on ancientbead.com
Most etched beads, thank god not all, are NOT as beautiful as the older ones without etching. The etching was substituting the original bead maker’s hunt for the right stone so he here with the right technique could bring forth the original, almost platonistic idea so far hidden in the stone. When etching became the main trend, the bead maker could take almost every 'Tom, Harry and Dick stone' and make the desired patterns with a little etching. They did not any longer have to search through literally tons of stone to find the right piece.
This etching trend of not manifesting the inner stone beauty, but cultivating it by superimposing 'divine meaning' on the stone only managed to reach an artistic acceptable level in the Tibetan DZI-beads and in the Burmese Pyu-beads.
Most of the ancient Indian made etched beads are not made with loving care.
Still they are interesting seen from a historic point of view.
They point at a growing, most probably Buddhist, middle class and lower class demand for mass produced stone beads with divine protective powers. Bead etching became main stream hand in hand with King Asoka’s successful transformation of India into a Buddhist empire. In the late Indus and early classical Indian time, skillfully crafted beads without etching were still dominant as jewels for the few.
That is why I elsewhere on Ancientbead.com advocate for the hypothesis that the stone bead culture is linked particular to the Buddhist culture and its predecessor, the Indus culture. Stone beads are not an integral part of the Arian Hindu culture.
Because of the craze for etched beads I have chosen another strategy for the last ten years: Hunting the beauty no one seemed to see in their crave for main stream tokens of social convergence and accept.
The above mentioned trend has polarized beads into two distinct groups. We have got a group of uniform and easily indentify able beads that have reached insanely high prices in opposition to all the huge variety of beads outside this small banded category. The Tibetans have had the honor of defining these two categories. What does not fit into the Tibetan sphere of interest has remained relatively cheap. Today you can get a beautiful non-etched ancient bead for the lower or same price as a low quality etched bead.
Beads as money - big money!
The reason for this division is also that beads have again become what they already were in ancient time: money... Big money! Some types of beads have increased their value by a hundredfold within the last ten years!!
In the modern trend of beads again becoming money, it is confusing with too many types of currency. Hence a huge variation of beads is left in the dark and only a small bandwidth of beads are defined and within some circles almost accepted as equal to hard cash currency.
The Tibetan culture is the only continuosly living bead culture
One of the reasons for that the Tibetans got the honor of defining what is a valuable stone bead or not, is that they are the living custodies of the world’s only continuous living stone bead culture.
Another reason is that the same Tibetans got their country robbed away by the Chinese.
If the Chinese had read global history, they would maybe have noted a curious tendency repeating itself all over in all places in history. They may have been more cautious in their handling with Tibet and Tibetan culture. It is the old tale of the conquers getting conquered by the culture they conquer.
This happened for the victorious Normans in Sicily. It happened for the moguls, especially under the glorious reign of Akbar.
It happened for the Kushans, once called the Yuezhi people from China when they entered into what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan and defeated the Grecco-Buddhist kings who were the rulers at that time. And what happened to the Kushan people? They converted into Buddhism and became the greatest mass producers of Buddhist artifacts ever. The ancient art called 'Gandhara' is made by the Kushan's!
So when you conquer someone... take care that you might not be defeated your self! In world history only the stiff English upper lip was too resistant to get under the sway of Indian gurus or any other foreign culture they occupied.
Now what is happening with the old Tibetan Buddhist culture of compassion?
At the time being it has like a virus been laying dormant waiting for its chance to infect the stone bead hard Chinese bureaucrat hart with love and compassion. However this hart is nowadays only in tune with greed. So compassion has taken the form of stone to attract this stone hart in the form of some small beads.
The power of DZI
Therefore this new kind of old DZI-money is particular in demand in China where corruption among the leaders of the communist party has become an increasingly risky task.
You cannot any longer present your local party leader with a gift in the form of a suitcase with one million dollars inside. This kind of bribe is far too obvious and hence dangerous. If you want green political light today for your Chinese project, you discretely hand over a little piece of stone. You give the party boss an ancient DZI-bead.
It is a truly beautiful example of the irony and humor of history: The ultimate spiritual and vibrational token of Tibetan Buddhism arrives as a virus in the very heart core of the rotten Chinese corruption apparatus. These so called socialist and atheist corruptokrats make an animistic dance of greed around the golden calf, a new dance, but as old and empty as the hole in a DZI-bead.
Again, lets us have a peep into this small bead hole. This time we can see the most fantastic mega-ego in the form of greed. DZI-beads have become D.ZI.RE-beads. Hence they absorb the evil spirits of the corruptocratic animal nature into their 'shoonyo' and thus pave the way for a new ancient China.
Here comes my second prediction in this essay. China will again rise to what it once was: A glorious and highly cultivated Buddhist civilization under the guidance of the spiritual masters of Tibet.
Yes... Dzi are secret Tibetan nano weapons with a mission impossible: to transform greed and power into love and kindness.
Seen in this light nobody can deny the spiritual powers of the DZI.
Just ask Madonna who has recently followed the Chinese party line and have become an ardent collector and devotee of DZI. Maybe the small black DZI-holes can even swallow up the megalomanian stars of Hollywood!
By the way .... Bead money has modern advantages. This will be my second advice to bead collectors, but only to the people living in the matrix of Beverly Hills. Beads are, as beads always have been, great travelers. They also like to fly. beads. As I have mentioned earlier, no one seems to bother about small insignificant stones ... also not governments...
I know persons who have traveled all over the world with an innocent chain of stone beads... so at least it must have looked in the eyes of the customs officers. However the necklace was made of ancient DZI beads. In this way you can easily have 10 million dollars hanging around your neck. Imagine that you transfer the same amount of money in your hand luggage through the airport security and no one stops you to ask questions.
You do not need to be a rich DZI-hunter in order to get beauty
Here at the end of this stream of words in consciousness I feel obliged to tie up all the loose ends in this essay about almost everything. Hence I go back the beginning where I was talking about excavation beads. Collecting and hunting for DZI and etched beads has or will in a near future be a sport only for the filthy rich. Seen from the angle of income, I am a solid representant of the world’s middle class. My third and last advice is: Middleclass collectors and lovers of beads. Widen your search to all kind of beads, glass beads, terra cotta beads, odd beads and especially excavation beads... Look for any bead that has not (yet) become a part of the pyramid money game.