I gave a talk about Scottish beads at the Annual Meeting for the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in San Francisco roughly a week ago. In the spirit of open access, I’m going to reproduce that talk here for you…
I post a lot about archaeology on here, and hopefully that’s taught somebody out there something, since rambling to myself would be a bit sad. But I recognize there might be a few of you who don’t really know what I do all day, so I thought I would take today’s Day of Archaeology to tell you.
Chemical analysis of glass beads has become quite popular in recent decades, and can help quite a bit with understanding the origins of the beads. But in general, we archaeologists tend to make the same assumptions: that the technology for one recipe of glass must have originated in one single place. But why do we have to assume that silica-soda-lime glass technology originated in a single location?
We can talk a lot about what colors are prevalent in what areas based on what we find, but we don’t talk much at all about why those colors are prevalent. For example, turquoise and reddish-brown are easily the most common colors at any given site in Asia. I don’t think I’ve found any site that has a different dominant color. But why?
One thing I’m noticing as I write my honors thesis is that subtypes of beads aren’t the best method of analysis. Subtypes operate on too many factors (shape, method of manufacture, size, color, decoration, etc.) to be of much use in an analysis. It’s better to separate each of these factors and analyze them separately rather than the various combinations of these factors in each subtype.
The two largest ideas I’ve had about glass bead manufacture over the past week are fairly related, or at least, they might be if I could articulate them better. Both work off of the idea that glass and bead manufacture are two very different crafts which require different skills and equipment.
Research carried out as part of the St. Lawrence University Research Fellowship in 2010 and was presented in a University-wide conference that fall. This piece discusses some of the most common subtypes of glass beads in Southeast Asia.
There’s a potential issue with a lot of the data: certain scholars talk a lot about mutisalah beads, but seem to define them in different ways. One say mutisalah are opaque brownish-red OR opaque orange beads (two different colors) that are used among modern ethnic communities in Timor and Flores in Indonesia (leading to questions of whether we can really use modern classifications of an artifact for objects that are 1000-2000 years old). They can be wound or drawn (two different styles of manufacture).
I’ve been awarded a St. Lawrence University Summer Research Fellowship this summer to look at glass beads in Southeast Asia, and that has started now in full force.
One of the largest questions we’ve been having (and will probably continue to have) is how we can document this data and represent it in a database that allows for easy manipulation, but doesn’t eliminate important material.