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Sunday, 13 May 2012


The first beads were probably plant seeds. The earliest gold beads imitated seed shapes, perhaps recalling the humble origins of beads. 

Seashells were strung together as early as 30,000 years ago. Shell necklaces have been discovered great distances from the sea, possibly indicating their significance as trading items.

In prehistoric Siberian settlements ivory taken from mammoths was carved into tiny beads related in form to the so-called Venus figurines produced by prehistoric cultures. Such beads may have been made to encourage fertility.

Among types of stone favored for beads by ancient peoples, turquoise occupied a special place. It was valued as a charm against bad fortune. The popularity of turquoise may have led to the earliest manufacturing of beads.

The oldest examples of glass are Egyptian beads dating from 12,000 BC.

Metal beads, especially of gold, were made in Crete in shapes such as lilies and roses in about 1500 BC, although gold beads had existed in Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations long before.

The history of glassmaking is closely tied to that of bead manufacture. The first blue glass beads appeared in Europe during the late Stone Age, though their origin is unknown.

The Phoenicians perfected glass bead manufacture and developed fancy beads with "eyes" suggesting comic human faces or animal heads.

Amber beads, made from fossilized tree resin, were especially popular among the Ancient Greeks.

Brilliantly colored millefiori beads were developed in Phoenicia by about 300 BC.

The use of knotted robes and later prayer beads as an aid to prayer were used by Eastern Christian monks in  about the fourth century and the practice of reciting 50 or 150 Ave Marias had become generally familiar by the thirteenth century. The English word bead comes from an old Germanic word meaning “to pray”.

Source Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc

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