Thursday, 27 December 2012

Beads Antiquity

Western Asian Stone Beads
In western Asia between 8000 and 6500 B.C., the foundations were laid for what is known as the Neolithic Revolution. It was during this period that people first made the transition from nomadic food-gatherers to settled food-producers—an extremely important advance that led to the establishment of permanent settlements. Village life, in turn, encouraged the accumulation of material possessions and stimulated trade. Moreover, the ability to store surplus food allowed time for craft specialization.

A group of early western Asian stone beads made of hard stones (predominantly quartz minerals), including agate, rock crystal, sard, carnelian, and jasper; c. 4000-2000 B.0 Also shown are beads of lapis lazuli, breccia, steatite, fossilized shell (top left), and fossilized coral (middle left). During this period, beads were often made with the same techniques employed to create stone weapons and tools—flaking or rough grinding on abrasive blocks. Firm! shaping and polishing was done with abrasives made of /lint chips, sand, or clay slurry. The similarity of shapes between all early beads in the region probably reflects the use of similar technologies. Fossilized shell: length, 4.9 cm. 
Collection Derek Content 

Bead clock of Queen Pu-abi, from the royal Sumerian graves at Ur, 2500 B.c. Length of longest strand, 36.2 cm. University of Pennsylvania, PhiladelphiaMade of scarce, durable, and easily recognizable raw materials to which commercial value could be easily assigned, and produced in small, standardized, and readily portable sizes, beads became a major commodity for traders. The demand for exotic and rare materials to be used for adornment helped to establish trade networks in western Asia and the Mediterranean at a very early date. By 6500 B.C., there were strong and far-reaching inter-changes, encompassing numerous partners and thousands of miles.

Detail of the bead clock of Queen Pu-abi, showing carnelian, lapis lazuli, agate, silver and gold loop-in-loop chain beadsVillages sprang up where people were harvesting plants and raising animals. Realizing the limited agricultural potential of growing crops in the rocky hills, people gradually introduced domesticated plants into the lower floodplains, where the soil was rich but the rainfall scanty. It was with the invention of irrigation systems that river valley societies in Mesopotamia (present-day northern Syria and Iraq), India, and Egypt evolved into sophisticated, complex city-states. Jewelry was an important art form within these cultures.

Settled village life was one of the predominant characteristics of Neolithic society. Stone and mud-brick dwellings were built, providing the first permanent forms of architecture. An unprecedented level of craftsmanship also flourished: the first examples of weaving and pottery and a proliferation of bead forms are associated with Neolithic times. Of great significance for the study of beads was the expansion of long-distance trade between the rapidly evolving, agriculturally intensive civilizations of the Mediterranean and the mountain cultures of western Asia. The uneven distribution of the regions' resources created networks of commercial relations that united these societies and encouraged the exchange of cultural artifacts.

Amuletic beads of carnelian, feldspar amethyst, faience, jasper and ivory from Egypt, during the First Intermediate period (2181-2130 B.c). Amulets were very important throughout Egyptian history. The common word for amulet in the dynastic periods was mkt, or "protector," and udjat, "the thing which keeps safe "and "the strengthener" Each shape was believed to help the wearer in specific circumstances encountered in life and the afterlife. Amulets were widely used in personal jewelry from the Fifth to the Twelfth Dynasty (2494-1786 B.c.).

Some amulets represent particular gods and were believed to impart the special qualities associated with those gods. The frog goddess, Heqet, for example, was considered the patroness of birth; the udjat, also known as the Eye of Horus, had strong amuletic powers, while the djed pillar stood for endurance. Amulets in the forms of human anatomical parts were thought to protect those body parts in the living. Furthermore, some beads were made of materials considered especially protective; in particular; garnet, carnelian, and crystal. Longest amulet: length, 3 cm. British Museum, London 

An example of New Kingdom bead production. Effigy lotus seed-pods in carnelian, gold, lapis lazuli, and feldspar; with tiny carnelian and gold spacer beads. Typical carnelian lotus pod: length, 1.5 cm. British Museum, LondonSophisticated systems of commerce evolved by the fourth millennium B.C. in which beads and bead materials often played an important role. Beads of lapis lazuli, a beautiful blue stone with numerous amuletic properties attributed to it, were a great favorite of the Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia during the third millennium B.C. Lapis was mined in the ancient Afghan region of Badakhshan, fifteen hundred miles away.

Collar of faience beads depicting corn-flowers, dates, lotus seed-pods, and petals in a pattern derived from garlands of real flowers. Faience bead collars were frequently supplied as favors to guests at banquets. This necklace typifies the technical brilliance of the faience and glass jewelry of the Amarna period (1379-1362 B.C.). It has been suggested that the uniquely gay and joyful quality of Amarna period art and jewelry reflects the sudden appearance of outside influences—possibly attributable to Minoan artists who may have fled to Egypt after the fall of Crete. Excavated from the tomb of Tutankhamen at Thebes.  Diameter, 31 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York . Rogers FundThe early Greeks of Mycenae, who established trading contacts with the Bronze Age cultures in the Baltic, exchanged copper and bronze implements for rare amber, with which they made beads. In effect, they extended their technical expertise to the less developed European regions while absorbing new materials and forms of adornment. Eventually, large quantities of glass beads would be carried thousands of miles by the ancient Phoenician and Roman seafaring civilizations.

Throughout antiquity, raw materials were traded more often than finished beads. A system developed of rural areas in Europe and western Asia supplying luxury materials to the urban centers, where craftsmen congregated under the aegis of wealthy patrons. Using the most advanced technology, they created beads in the latest styles. A corollary to this pattern is that finished beads were usually traded by more technically advanced cultures to less advanced ones. Beads demonstrating intricate craftsmanship were particularly prized. 

Beads from the Royal Tombs at Ur

A collection of New Kingdom sand-core glass beads from the Amarna period. For right eye bead: diameter 1.5 cm. Collection Henry Anavian, New YorkA royal graveyard—the tomb of Queen Pu-abi, in particular—in the Sumerian city of Ur contained some of the most remarkable beads in the ancient world. In the graves, several of which were mass burials that included one noble person and a retinue of attendants, all the women and many of the men were interred with beads. Numerous skeletons were found with the beads still in their original arraignments.

The (Ur cemetery contained graves spanning five hundred years (2600-2100 B.C) and three periods: Early Dynastic III, Akkadian, and Post-Akkadian, each of id its own distinctive group of beads. Queen Pu-abi's beads date from the Early Dynastic 111 period (2500 B. c), when ur was the most powerful city-state The beads are of five materials: carnelian, lapis lazuli, agate, gold, and sliver. The sophisticated goldsmithing techniques of the Ur beads and the mastery of polishing and precision-cutting of stones show how quickly technology craftsmanship and artisny accelerated in the hands of full-time artisans.

Lunar pectoral with necklace of carnelian, lapis lazuli, feldspar; and gold beads and a lotus blossom counterpoise. This is a striking example of the three basic components in Egyptian jewelry —pectoral, beaded neck-lace, and counterpoise—unified into a single design. Even the beaded tassels hanging from the counterpoise acted as amulets, protecting the wearer from behind. This piece was worn by King Tutankhamen and buried in his tomb at Thebes, c. 1352 B. c Pectoral; width, /1.8 cm. Cairo Museum All materials used in these beads were imported, testifying to the power of the rulers to protect trade routes and establish foreign alliances. The largest beads using the finest colored stories were recovered consistently from royal graves, another expression of the supreme power of royalty.


Agate, jasper; and carnelian beads purported to have been excavated near the Amu Darya River; the legendary "Oxus of empires," in northeastern Afghanistan. All the beads of this group, particularly the rhomboidal or lenticular agates, are of the finest quality. These beads have almost exact counterparts among artifacts discovered in the royal tombs at Ur (2600-2100 13. C.).

Rhomboidal beads date to 7000 B. C at Catal Hilyiik, Anatolia. Agates of this fine quality how-ever; are documented at only a few archaeological sites: Ur (Mesopotamia), Tape Hisser (Iran), and Mundigak (Afghanistan). Their distribution may be related to the far-reaching third-millennium trade in lapis lazuli or to trade in etched beads between Mesopotamia and the IndusValley.8 Inside neck-lace, center bead: length, 3.5 cm. Private collections

Agate, jasper, and carnelian beads
Between 4000 and 3000 B.C., three of the earliest centers of civilization based on intensive agriculture developed in the river valleys of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India. These were hierarchical societies with an upper level of merchant, priestly, military, and royal classes in whose collective hands wealth was concentrated. One way in which social differences were reflected was the display of adornment, including beads. Indeed, for the first time, the role of beads as status symbols equaled or surpassed their ritual or magical functions. The dual function of beads as amulets and status symbols is a prevailing theme of their history throughout most of western Asia, Egypt, and the Mediterranean in ancient times.

Mesopotamian and Egyptian priests and kings employed full-time jewelers, and through their patronage bead making technology developed rapidly. The degree of prestige attached to a necklace depended not only on its craftsmanship, but on the use of rare and precious materials. To obtain not only the basic necessities of life, but these scarce minerals, metals, and marine products as well, trade routes spanning great distances developed into an important part of these civilizations' commercial activities.

A collection of lapis lazuli, turquoise, carnelian, agate, and gold beads recovered in the 1980s from archaeological sites in northern Afghanistan are believed to date between 2200 and 1600 B.C. These beads resemble in quality form and materials’ those of the same period nom Mesopotamia. Their minute scale—as many as forty to an inch have been recorded—is associated with wealth, since it was necessary to waste considerable raw material in their fabrication. Gold fly: length, 1.5 cm. Private collection Egypt had within its boundaries most of the natural resources used in bead making; Mesopotamia, however, had none of the appropriate materials. Gold probably came to the 'Tigris and Euphrates valleys from the mountains of Anatolia or Iran, carnelian and agate from India and Afghanistan, and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. Lapis, the one stone important to Egyptian jewelry not found inside its borders, reached the Nile Delta via Mesopotamia.

By 2500 B.C., beads produced for Sumerian royalty in the city-state of Ur in southern Mesopotamia were of superb craftsmanship, employing sophisticated goldsmithing techniques for granulation and filigree. Fluted melon beads were crafted in gold and lapis lazuli. The products of Sumerian jewelers spread into the less-developed cultures of western Asia and into Anatolia, the probable source of the jewelers' gold. Sumerian jewelry techniques also traveled to southern Greece arid Crete, where gold beads in related styles appear at slightly later dates.

The importance of Sumerian and Mesopotamian jewelry and bead making and its direct or indirect influence on the adornment of subsequent cultures in western Asia and the Mediterranean cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, most techniques practiced by jewelers today were known to the ancient Sumerian goldsmiths. With the dissolution of the Sumerian Empire about 1600 B.C., the techniques developed by Sumerian smiths were passed on to Babylonian craftsmen in northern Mesopotamia.

The Phoenicians created distinctive three-dimensional glass head and pendant beads, many of which were manufactured in Carthage. Head beads were popular trade items as early as 700 B.C. and were widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean area. They may have been viewed as a more developed form of the eye bead, with greater protective powers derived from rendering the whole head rather than just the eye. The beads were made by a winding or core-formed technique. When the bead was completed, the core was removed with a pointed tool. This ram's head is dated 30010 200 B.C. Length, 5.15 cm. Images on this page: Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.
Glass and glass beads also appear to have a western Asian and possibly Sumerian origin. The earliest examples are from Mesopotamia, dating to the Akkad dynasty (2340-2180 B.c.), and from the Caucasus region in present-day Russia.


Virtually everyone in ancient Egypt, from predynastic to Ptolemaic times (c. 3100-30 B.c.), wore beads. The Egyptian word sha means "luck" and sha-sha means "bead", suggesting that beads were thought to have amuletic or protective properties. This may explain the Egyptian custom of using beads to cover almost every article of clothing and every part of the body The Egyptians also believed that to insure comfort in the afterlife, the dead must be surrounded with the paraphernalia of daily life. Quantities of beads were buried with their owner, the choice of the materials depending on the family's wealth. Occasionally, delicately beaded funeral pieces were also included.

Pendant bead, 450-300 B.C. Length, 5.7 cm Granulated gold beads born Iran, c. 1000 B.C. Although these beads in fact precede the Achaemenid Dynasty (550-330 B.C.), the period of major Greek-Persian contact, they show the superb quality of ancient Iranian gold work, which later had an impact on Hellenistic jewelry.

The fine granulation techniques illustrated here reveal influences from neighboring Assyrian, Babylonian, or Elamite goldsmiths. It is also possible that knowledge of granulation was derived from Egypt via Hurrian or Phoenician workshops on the Syrian coasts. Upper right bead: diameter, 1.3 cm. Collection Hetzry Anavian, New York 

Head bead, 400-200 B.C. Length, 3.4 cm
As in Mesopotamia, beads were worn by both men and women in Egypt and were depicted on statues of the gods. Although numerous stones were available to the Egyptians, certain metals and stones were favored, especially gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. A stone's color almost certainly had particular talismanic value to the Egyptian lapidary and his clients, and therefore determined its popularity.

The greatest numbers of Egyptian beads were made of faience, an inexpensive type of ceramic with a quartz sand body and colored glaze, generally considered to be the forerunner of true glass. Possibly invented in either Mesopotamia or Egypt by 4000 B.C., faience was the first mass-produced synthetic material to simulate precious stones such as turquoise and lapis lazuli. The development of faience and eventually glass satisfied the desire of the general populace to wear beads that emulated the precious stones of the wealthy.

Although glass beads are known by the Seventh and Eighth Dynasties (c. 2181-2160 B.C.), they were first manufactured for a large commercial market beginning in Egypt about 1400 B.C. The New Kingdom, especially the later phases of the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1350 B.C.), is generally considered to be the world's first great glass-making epoch. The earliest glass, an exotic material, was made for use by the pharaohs and their courts, although it eventually became available to wealthier commoners.

A decline in glassmaking skills occurred in Egypt after the Nineteenth Dynasty ended (c. 1200 B.c.), and glass’s virtually disappeared after the fall of the New Kingdom (1085 B.C.). It was revived in Ptolemaic times, during the fourth century B.C., when Alexander the Great founded Alexandria, a cosmopolitan center with international trading links. Glass reputedly produced in Alexandria through the early Roman period included some of the most beautiful and complex beads ever made.


A necklace of Etruscan gold and Phoenician glass beads. These well-made granulated and filigree gold beads represent the pinnacle of technical excellence for ancient goldsmiths. This necklace was probably created in the early sixth century when the Phoenicians and Etruscans were political allies, living and trading in relative harmony Pendant: length, 3.1 cm. British Museum, London Ancient Afghanistan was a major supplier of both raw materials and beautifully made stone beads, a fact as much related to the mineral wealth of its mountains as to its geographic location. Surrounded by Iran, India, China, and Russia, trade routes between these countries.

Passed through Afghanistan, making it an important transmitter of materials and culture and a strategic intermediary between East and West.9 Historically underrated as a source of bead craftsmanship, Afghanistan was considerably more than a source of raw materials. Many beads excavated there and attributed to the third and second millenniums B.C. have exact counterparts among the artifacts recovered from the royal tombs of Ur in southern Mesopotamia. Because these beads are found in such quantity in Afghanistan, it is reason-able to assume they were manufactured locally.

The great bead making era in Afghanistan ended about 1600 B.C., a date synchronous with the decline of the Babylonian Empire. As trade to the south dwindled both the incentives and the economic structures supporting bead making seem to have disappeared.


By 1200 B.C., the Phoenicians (who were centered in present-day Lebanon) had become the leading navigators and traders of their time. From a small group of city-states (Sidon, Tyre, Beirut, and Byblos) located along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians sailed great distances , possibly even reaching the southern tip of Africa. Despite their daring explorations, however, Phoenician trade routes essentially duplicated those of the earlier Minoans and Mycenaean’s. Phoenician commerce was based on timber—the famed cedars of Lebanon—which was exchanged for Cypriot copper and African gold, precious stones, ivory and spices. Cloth of Tyrian purple (a dye made from murex shells) and glass beads were also staple exports.

A Hellenistic Greek necklace, c. 300-200 B.C., in the polychrome style. The combination of gold, enameling, and colored glass beads shows the influence of the East—particularly Persia and Phoenicia. Length, 39 cm. Castellanies Collection, British Museum, London
The Phoenicians were highly skilled glass bead makers, borrowing many stylistic concepts from those with whom they traded, while developing their own technologies. Like the Babylonians (who succeeded the Sumerians as the dominant force in western Asia from 1760 to 1600 13.C.), Egyptians, and Greeks, the Phoenicians buried their dead with great care, inter-ring unique core-formed glass pendants and beads with the deceased. By 800 B.C., Carthage, originally a colonial Phoenician outpost on the North African coast, became a great international seaport famed for its glass beads and pendants. They were distributed by Phoenician traders throughout the Mediterranean until the second century B.C.

The Roman Empire

Banded agates were imitated so perfectly by ancient glassmakers that it is often difficult to determine if a bead is stone or glass. The beads in the left column of this plate are stone, while those on the right are glass. Most of the stone beads date to the Persian, Parthian, and Roman periods (249 B.C-A.D. 300), although some rows (third from the top down, for example) date to the early first millennium B.C. The glass beads are from the Roman Period (except for the third row, which may date to 800 B.C.). All beads shown were found in Iran. Bottom left bead: length, 4.5 cm. Collection Henry Anavian Rome's artistic heritage, including jewelry and beads, was largely derived from the preceding Greek Hellenistic period. In turn, Hellenistic craftsmen had themselves been influenced by exposure to Persian, Phoenician, Egyptian, and northern Indian traditions. It is therefore not surprising that Roman beads are a cross-cultural mixture of materials, stylistic concepts, and technical knowledge.

The Romans emerged from a small second-millennium B.C. enclave near Rome to become the dominant power in the Mediterranean and Europe until their empire's collapse in A.D. 476. By A.D.100, Rome's territories extended from Armenia and Assyria in the east to Germany and Britain in the north and Mauritania and Egypt in the south.

The Roman period, New Kingdom Egypt, and the era of Islamic dominance in the Mediterranean (C. A.D. 600-1400) are generally considered the three great periods of ancient glassmaking. The terms "Roman" and "Roman-period" glass are used to describe glass production from 100 B.C. to AD. 400 within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, including work-shops in Syria, Egypt, Italy, Switzerland, the Rhineland , France, and England. Everywhere the Romans went they brought glass beads to trade. Produced in a large range of colors, patterns, and frequently complex techniques, Roman-made glass beads were widely coveted. 

Necklace: A wide variety of mosaic and other patterned glass beads interspersed with small carnelians and blue glass corner less cubes. Beads shown date from the Phoenician through early Islamic periods (c. 400 B.C.-A.D. 900). Center bead: diameter 1.9 cm. Private collection
Exchanged as far north as Scandinavia, and as far east and south as China, Korea, Iran, Syria, Mali, and Ethiopia, quantities of Roman-period glass beads have been found in each of these countries, frequently raising the question of where they were originally manufactured because of their similar patterns and manufacturing techniques.

After Alexander's conquests, the practice of glassmaking appears to have moved from the interior of Egypt to Hellenistic Alexandria, where exquisite mosaic glass was manufactured from 300 B.C. to A.D. 100. (Yet, despite the city's reputation as the ancient center of the luxury glass industry, no glassmaking factory has ever been found in Alexandria.) About 100 B.C., glassmakers in Sidon and Tyre on the Lebanese coast competed with the Alexandrians in producing beautiful glass beads. Eventually, craftsmen from both centers migrated to new locations within the Roman provinces, setting up factories and disseminating techniques and forms.

Necklace: A wide variety of mosaic and other patterned glass beads interspersed with small carnelians and blue glass corner less cubes. Beads shown date from the Phoenician through early Islamic periods (c. 400 B.C.-A.D. 900). Center bead: diameter 1.9 cm. Private collection During the first century B.C., core forming, a glass manufacturing technique long in use, went out of style. Newly invented larger furnaces with hotter fires were capable of creating a more fluid glass, affecting bead shapes and their patterns. Furthermore, glass's constituents (sand, alkali, and coloring agents) were refined, subsequently producing purer glass. The invention of the blowpipe, reputedly in Sidon, completely modernized the glass industry by increasing the level of production and opening the way for still further new techniques, forms, and decorative styles. 

Although the blowpipe was not directly relevant to glass bead making, since few beads were blown (the great majority were still produced by winding and the newly introduced drawn techniques), the combined result of all these innovations under Roman guidance was the growth of glassmaking into a large-scale industry More glass was made in the first century A.D. than in the previous fifteen hundred years. Because the material was widely obtainable, relatively inexpensive, and no longer reserved for the elite, everyone could now afford to wear beads.

Mosaic face beads-miniature masterpieces of ancient glassmaking. The fine detail achieved on beads typically less than one-half inch in diameter was astonishing. Note the eyes with pupils, the skin tones, and women wearing tiny bead necklaces. Top left bead: diameter 1.2 cm. Private collection
While beads manufactured in the European provinces during the late Roman period were generally of poorer quality than those of earlier times, glassworks along the east coast of the Mediterranean and within the Byzantine and Sassanian empires continued to produce finely crafted and styled beads, providing a link between Rome and the Islamic era, the last great period of ancient glass bead making. 

Mosaic glass beads

Mosaic glass beads of the Hellenistic and Roman periods (300 B.C.-A.D.400) were made with techniques initially used in the earliest days of glassmaking. Archaeological evidence points to the invention of mosaic glass in western Asia. Mosaic glass reappeared in Egypt (Alexandria) and Syria only after the fourth century B.c and declined after the first century A.D. It had a final renaissance in Venice about 1500.

Mosaic glass bars from which beads could be manufactured easily were an important trade commodity in the Roman world. Thin slices of a bar; as shown here, were cut with a metal blade and abrasive sand. These slices were then pierced for beads. By distributing the bars, complex mosaic glass was made available to less sophisticated glass industries. It was not unusual for merchants separated by thousands of miles to order glass ingots from a common supplier. As a result, mosaic glass beads of similar patterns were found throughout the empire. 100 B.C.-A.D. 100. Length, 3.7 cm. Corning Museum of Glass, Corning. New YorkArtistically crafted mosaic glass beads, also called millefiore ("thousand flowers"), are the product of great' technical expertise. The fine detail of the beads was achieved by laying a bundle of preformed colored glass rods in parallel rows so that the cross-section of the bundle had a pattern. The glass was then heat-softened and stretched, fusing the canes together. This miniaturized the design, but the Goss-sectional pattern remained unchanged.  

Writer - Lois Sherr Dubin
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Monday, 24 December 2012

Prayer beads

A Buddhist mala. The 108 disk-shaped prayer beads are made from the bones of a lama (holy man). The dividers and retaining beads are coral, and the tassels are silk. The sattin ribbon is partially covered with Tibetan writing. The two counters, each with ten silver beads, terminate in thunderbolt pendants (djore). Several hundred old, this mala belonged to Lama Kunga in Rinpoche of the Ngor monastery. Length (side to top center bead). 40 cm. Collection Ivory Freidus
Prayer beads are commonly associated with the middle Ages (A.D. 600-1400) and Roman Catholicism. Their use, however, is universal and predates the Christian era. Christianity, in fact, was the last of the major religions to employ prayer beads in an important ritualistic role. Even today, the religions of nearly two-thirds of the world's population utilize some form of prayer beads. 

The word bead is derived from the Anglo-Saxon bidden ("to pray") and bede ("prayer"). During the medieval period, when jewelry was discouraged by the church, rosaries were acceptable as convenient portable devices for counting prayers. Their purpose was to assist the worshiper in accurately repeating from memory the correct number of prayers and incantations required by his faith.

The rosary is only one of several ancient ways used to count prayers. The earliest means involved counting on fingers or shifting pebbles from one pile to another as the prayers were recited. These unwieldy methods were replaced by tying knots on a cord: the strings of prayer beads probably evolved from strings of knots. The Greek Orthodox Church still employs a knotted rosary the kombologion.

The use of beads to count prayers appears to have originated with the Hindus in India. Sandstone sculptures of the Sunga and Kushan periods (185 B.C.-A.D. 320) portray Hindu sages holding rosaries. It is possible, however, they were used even earlier by the Hindu cult of Siva or, according to legend, by Sakyamuni (also known as Siddhartha Gautama, c. 563-483 B.c.), the founder of Buddhism. One account places the rosary's origin in the sixth century B.C., when Sakyamuni paid a visit to King Vaidurya, a recent Buddhist convert. Later, Buddhists in Tibet, China, and Japan used rosaries, as did Muslim Persians and Arabs. 

Christians may have first learned about the concept of the rosary from the Arabs, either as a result of the Crusaders' experiences in the Holy Land or through its introduction into Spain by eighth-century Muslim invaders. More likely, the Christian rosary evolved independently in Western Europe (first, possibly in Ireland) as the church developed more sophisticated rituals and its practitioners had an increasing number of prayers to count. Many church members were illiterate; using beads as a counting device insured that each prayer was repeated the prescribed number of times. 

A fifteenth-century rosary of hollow agate beads, each of which opens, revealing a scene in enameled gold. The rosary illustrates the elaborate materialism of the late medieval period, a source of controversy within the Church. Length, 51 cm. Muse National du Louvre, Paris
Although the number, arrangement, and materials of prayer beads are different with each religion, there are shared concepts that link the beads of the major faiths. Symbolic associations are frequently made between flowers (particularly the rose) and gardens and prayer beads. The name for prayer beads in Tibet and India is the Sanskrit word mala: it means “garden,” "garland of flowers,”: and "necklace of beads.” The oldest name for Hindu prayer beads is japamala:"muttering chaplet.” But japamala also means “rose chaplet,” presumably because the beads were made of rolled petals from the flower rose of Sharon (Hibiscus Syracuse). The Roman Catholic rosary has a rich historical relationship with rose garlands and rose gardens. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the Christian rosary is the history of its name, derived from rosarium ("rose garden"). Since classical times, the rose has been universally beloved. Its form, fragrance, and color symbolize beauty, mystery, love, and perfection. Aphrodite wore rose perfume and a crown of roses, while the Muses wore garlands of roses and thyme. The ancient Romans associated roses with success and festivity: victorious warriors returning from battle were greeted with roses. In Christianity, the red rose symbolizes Christ's blood and the purity of the Virgin Mary Originating in the concept of the Paradise Gardens of Persia (with obvious biblical roots in the Old Testament's Garden of Eden), the cloistered rose garden became an essential part of medieval architecture; a secluded, high walled courtyard filled with fragrant roses. The rose garden was an ideal place for meditation and prayer. Collections of medieval prayers and hymns were bound into books called Rosaria ("flower gardens"). 

By the middle of the fifteenth century, rose gardens, rose garlands, and rosaries were associated with the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child in paintings and in the illustrations of rosary books. Religious paintings of the period are often set in rose gardens, under rose arbors, or near a rosebush. Angels and the Christ Child are seen wearing or holding rosaries.

It is unclear at what point the word meaning “a garden of roses" was transformed into “a string of beads used to count prayers.” Nonetheless, the spiritual identity of roses was extended to beads, which came to symbolize a permanent garden of prayer called the rosary. 

A carved boxwood prayer bead made in Flanders about 1500. It usually sewed as a terminal bead to a one-decade paternoster. The exquisite carving juxtaposes scenes from the life and death of Christ. In the upper sphere, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Annunciation of the Shepherds; in the lower sphere, the Crucifixion. Diameter 5.4 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
While the quantities of beads used in rosaries differ from religion to religion (and even among various sects of a single faith), multiples of three predominate the iconography of rosaries, reflecting the significance of the number in prayers and even fundamental doc-trines—the Buddhist triad (Buddha, the doctrine, and the community), for example, or the Roman Catholic Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). The Buddhist rosary, and the Hindu rosary from which it was derived, have 108 beads; the Muslim, 99; the Roman Catholic, 150. In addition to their practical purpose, rosaries have intellectual, social, psychological, and aesthetic significance. Highly sensual, inviting continual handling, they were sometimes an ascetic's only material possession. Healing powers have been attributed to rosaries, as well as the power to exorcise evil spirits and ward off lightning. Certain materials, such as agate, were almost universally talismanic; their use as religious beads provided double protection. Coral beads were associated with the prevention of ailments of the blood. In many medieval paintings, the Christ Child is shown wearing or holding a coral rosary.

Beginning in ancient times, prayers have been recited in cycles. Countless ceremonies exist in which a circle is used to join people together, to create a sense of place, and to “protect what is within; to keep out what is dangerous or to concentrate force.” There are also ageless associations with the cycles of life, as well as annual, seasonal, and daily cycles. Symbolizing cycles of prayer, rosaries form closed circlets or chaplets. Whether the circle is large or small, it usually has either a terminal bead or tassel marking the beginning and end of the prayer cycle. Markers of a different shape or size occur at intervals among the counting beads, providing the user with a place to pause and rest. 

The rosary's circular form has different levels of religious and psychological meanings. In meditation, the circle enters the mind in contemplation: "One uses prayer beads, ringing one-self in.” Meditation involves establishing a space, a circle, and focusing attention within it, thus concentrating energy. Writing about introspection, Saint Augustine admonished the faithful: "God is a circle whose center is everywhere." He prescribed “[returning] within yourself, for it is in the inward man that truth dwells.” The solitary, thoughtful manipulation of prayer beads enhances this contemplative state of mind, and the repetitious handling of the beads helps the worshiper concentrate on spiritual needs. As prayers are said, a closed circuit is created: words are spoken, fingers move, and ears listen.

Worry Beads

Visitors to present-day Greece, Turkey, or the Middle East see men and women holding "worry beads." At business meetings in Saudi Arabia, businessmen discuss transactions involving millions of dollars while fingering strings of beads. If questioned, people will deny the beads have any special meaning. However, since there are usually thirty-three beads on the string with a vase-shaped retaining bead ending in a tassel, they are probably derived from both Christian and Islamic prayer beads. Worry beads, like prayer beads, are made in a great many materials—plastic, glass, olive pits, wood, amber, ivory, and semiprecious stones—catering to various owners' wealth and status. Their primary function as a release for tension provides a security that may, in fact, be subconsciously spiritual.

Writer - Lois Sherr Dubin 
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Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Ancient Tradition of Indian Jewelry

Tinmaniya (three gems) pendant, Jaipur  The broad, flat pendant bears parrot and moon motifs. Note its fine work, and the continuation of the ancient granulation technique.
For centuries the fabled wealth of India, her textiles, her spices, her gold and jewels, attracted traders, invaders, explorers and adventurers. In late medieval times, the earliest armada to land on Indian shores was that of Vasco da Gama, Portuguese soldier of fortune, discoverer of the Renaissance route to India. How his eyes must have widened at his first sight of the Zamorin, the ruler of Calicut, blazing with jewellery the like of which he had probably never seen—a gem-studded bracelet with a pendant diamond "the thickness of a thumb"; a gold chain with rubies and an emerald set in its centre; ropes of pearls around his neck, each pearl the size of a hazel nut; his hair swept up into a top knot and adorned with strings of pearls which ended in a large pear-shaped pearl. His ears were pierced to receive many gold earrings, while beside him a page boy stood at the ready with an enormous gold spittoon. 

Dancing Girl, bronze, Mohenjo-Daro, Indus Valley, ca. 2500 BC  Perhaps the most famous figure of the Indus Valley civilization. Her right arm bears two bangles and an armlet, very simple of design, whereas her left arm is covered with bangles. Her necklace has three cowrie shell pendants. The Zamorin was not alone in his display of fine jewellery whose value was beyond reckoning even in those times. Each ruler, each king, could boast of a similar treasury, some more modest, some infinitely larger, like that of the Emperor of Vijayanagara in whose domain, it was observed, ladies were so heavily laden with jewellery that they had to be supported by other women lest they stagger and fall under their luxurious burden. Many rulers vied with each other to acquire rarer or richer ornaments of exquisite craftsmanship. As well they might. For India was a seemingly inexhaustible source of the finest gold and precious gemstones, an eager consumer herself, a supplier to the rest of the world. What she could not produce, or needed more of, she got from elsewhere, emeralds from Egypt, bullion from Rome. 

This love of jewellery permeated all sections of Indian society from the wealthiest to the humblest, as it does to this day; and the fashioning of ornaments was from materials as diverse as precious metals, gemstones, ivory, beads, feathers, cowrie shells, terracotta, berries and animal claws, to name just a few. 

Mother Goddess, late Mauryan, 2nd cent. BC  This depiction is of the Mother Goddess (matrika) as a beautiful young girl. Note the spectacular ornamented head-dress, the necklace and garland, the heavy anklets, and the huge bell-like earring. But, like most things Indian, there is a resonance beyond the surface. Certainly jewellery was prized as personal adornment, as much for its intrinsic value as for the beauty and precision of its craftsmanship. However its parts and whole held other values far richer than mere monetary worth. Ananda Coomaraswamy's comment on Indian art was equally true of jewellery: it is not just the appearance but the significance that is sought for, not just the object but the concept that stands before it. 

A world of meaning suffused each piece, each stone, investing it with mysterious powers to act as a talisman to ward off evil or create auspicious and protective auras. Ornamental motifs were symbols of hopes and aspirations; the fish, for example, stood for fertility; curling vines, plants and seeds for fecundity and reproduction. Jewellery and its secret prayer lay on the skin, near the heart or on the forehead, placed on chakras or vital body areas for the greatest efficacy. A woman's ornaments were not just decoration, they brought peace and prosperity to the family and long life to her husband and children. 

Necklace, Harappa, ca. 3000 BC  Recovered from an excavation of an Indus Valley site, this necklace shows an almost contemporary sophistication. The necklace is of steatite and gold beads with pendants of banded agate and jade. Not only was jewellery a marker of wealth and status, it identified its wearer in a number of ways, often simultaneously—region, caste, marital status, personal achievements. The cycle of family life was spun out in the rites of passage of its members; each occasion, be it birth or an infant's naming ceremony, the first feeding, the beginning of education, marriage, had its own significant emblems in jewellery. Just as land was immoveable wealth, jewellery was its moveable counterpart, to be added to whenever possible, to be sold only in times of distress. It was also streedhan, a woman's personal wealth, her support when life inflicted harshness or penury. In its most perfect form, it was commissioned and crafted as an act of piety and devotion to adorn the serene images of gods in their temples.

Earrings, Taxila, 1st cent. AD  These earrings, found in an excavation in Sirkap, have a main circle of plain hollowed gold; but notice the fineness of the gold granulation on the pendants, and the clasps in a coil shape.Such is the tradition that goes back in an almost unbroken line for at least 5000 years. We know this from excavations carried out at the sites of the Indus Valley civilizations dating back over two millennia before the Christian era. Here, not only have ornaments been found but also objects and sculptures, such as the famous Dancing Girl from Mohenjo-Daro, which testify to a flourishing tradition. The finds from the excavated sites show the use of a variety of materials ranging from gold and silver to faience and an overwhelming array of beads of semi-precious stones. These were fashioned into bracelets, bangles, earrings, necklaces and ornaments for the head. Even at that stage the skill of the craftsman is evident. 

Necklace, Taxila, 1st cent. AD  A necklace of remarkable charm in Greco-Roman style, it has gold set with turquoise and garnets. The pendants feature the famed filigree work of Taxila, and its equally famed granulation. The goldsmith had moulds for metal and terra cotta, and he could flatten gold into thin sheets or mix it with other metals to make alloys. The lapidary could accomplish the difficult task of boring tiny holes through beads so that they could be strung into necklaces, bracelets, earrings. 

Indeed, it is this genius of the Indian craftsman that has enlivened the jewellery tradition through the centuries. His ability to absorb, his talent for innovation, enabled him to re-fashion and adapt outside influences to create a uniquely Indian fusion. Techniques that originated elsewhere stayed on to become staples of the jeweller's art. 

Tara, bronze from Kurkihar, 9th cent. AD  The figure of Tara embodies the classical concept of feminine beauty and bears delicately-wrought ornaments. She wears different earrings in either ear, bangles and armlets; a pendanted band adorns her forehead while the lightest of anklets grace her feet. We see this, for example, in the jewellery excavated from Taxila and its environs. Taxila was the old capital of the Ganelhara region that lay at the western edge of the Kushan Empire (around 1st century BC to 4th century AD). Later it was Sirkap that became the principal city. Taxila itself had already gone through a chequered history, passing as it did through Greek, Mauryan and other influences before coming under the sway of the Central Asian Kushans. And, since the area stood on the crossroads of a major trade route to the Mediterranean, the influences permeating it had several origins, including Persian and Graeco-Roman. These are visible in the finds from this area comprising necklaces, girdles, pendants, brooches, amulets and earrings. 

It was the Greek techniques of granulation and filigree that are seen to such advantage in the Taxila jewellery. Granulation had come to India earlier, probably with Alexander the Great in his attempt to conquer India in the 4th century 'BC, and there are exceptional examples of this art pre-dating the Taxila finds. In this painstaking process, gold rounds are created through the application of extreme heat that causes the metal to contract into balls or granules. The granules are then sifted to sort out sizes and patterned on a gold surface, being fixed in place through a heating process that requires great skill. In filigree, finely-drawn wires are twisted together and flattened or bent to form designs and motifs. 
Rakhdi, Jaipur  The rakhdi owes its origins to the many head ornaments described in ancient texts. Most were worn on the crest of the head, as was this, never to be seen because they were covered by the head veil. This one has diamonds in a kundan setting of burnished gold. Granulation has been a mainstay since those times, practiced even today by goldsmiths from Tamil Nadu to Rajasthan; and perhaps it could be claimed with truth that the exquisite filigree work of Orissa that we see owes its origin to the masters of Taxila.

We have made a jump from the Indus Valley to Taxila, but in the intervening centuries and beyond, much that we know of the jewellery tradition is drawn from other sources. Perhaps this is because of the Indian propensity to re-fashion jewellery by melting down metal and prising out stones. Perhaps, as with deities in bronze, hoards of ornaments were buried deep under the ground as a protection from marauders—who knows? What is certain is that if the vitality of the tradition is not visible through tangible examples, it has at least been preserved for us in sculpture, painting, the great epics, Sanskrit scriptures and literature. 

Jhela with chain, Jaipur  The gold jhela head ornament—has been carefully crafted to drape over the head and fall to either side of the face, ending in earrings which would have been fixed to the lower ends.
Literary sources provide information about the Vedic period (around 1500 BC). There are references to ornaments in the Rig Veda, a text which abounds in such poetic descriptions as karna-shobhana for the adornment of the ear. But it is not until later, when we come to the great sculptures of the Mauryans, the Shungas, the Shatavahanas and the Kushans, that we are able to actually see the words come to life. It is a grand parade of figures that we encounter, gods and kings and queens, saints and sinners, beautiful nymphs and inebriated harlots. Except for those deliberately left austere, they are draped one and all with jewellery from forehead to ankle. Their necks are adorned with a profusion of chokers, chains, pearl strands, their arms encased from forearm to wrist, their waists and hips girdled. The monuments at Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati, the images from Gandhara and Mathura, all bear witness to a spectacular and vital tradition, the unknown sculptors capturing with grace and precision the art of the jeweller. 

Anklet or paizeb, Rajasthan, 19th cent. AD  Gold is traditionally valued as a symbol of Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, therefore would not normally be worn on the feet. However, royal families did not always share this sentiment, as seen in this gold anklet studded with spinals set in green glass frames. Pearls lavishly skirt the borders on the top and below.
Lokanatha, gilted bronze from Kurkihar, llth-12th cent. AD  This striking image of the Bodhisattva Lokanatha is richly bejeweled and detailed in its ornamentation. Note the armlets with their lion heads and the pearl-festooned waistband. A floral motif is delicately repeated throughout. 

Far to the south, discoveries in Tamil Nadu yielded a rich hoard of coins and jewellery dating as far back as the 1st century BC, a time when direct trade between India and Rome flourished. The gold jewellery includes rings and a pendant, reminders of an era when poets sang of the Yavana seamen who came to the wealthy ports of the southern shores bearing gold. Gold was used in abundance in the south as jeweller), offered to gods and worn by kings alike. The Chola kings were generous in their endowments to temples, and inscriptions list the details of the jewellery that poured out from the royal treasury to adorn images of the deities. No less than 65 different ornaments featured on the vast repertoire of the Chola jewellers, from necklaces of various kinds to bejewelled waistbands. 

Hansuli, North India, 18th cent. AD  The hansuli, a stiff, torque-like necklace, is seen in Kushan sculptures, so clearly it is of ancient origin. This one is richly enameled and studded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds with a skirting of pearls.This was all of a piece with the fascination for jewellery displayed in the epics and literature. In the Ramayana, as the abducted Sita is forced to go to Lanka with the demon Ravana, she drops her jewelled armband and earrings to indicate the path she has taken. 

In the Mahabharata, the valiant Karna, scion of the Sun God, is born with divine armour and earrings that render him invincible. But when, in a fateful gesture, he is tricked into cutting them off, he is doomed to die. In the immortal Shakuntala of Kalidasa, the eponymous heroine is abandoned by her royal husband until the ring he has given her comes to light and his memory returns. In the great Tamil poem of the Sangam age, Silappadikaram, a man is condemned to death after being falsely accused of having stolen a jewelled anklet from the queen. His wife's grief turns to fury, and the intensity of her rage sets a whole city on fire. 

Mukut, ca. 19th cent. AD, Jaipur  The mukut, a crown-like head ornament, is mentioned in Sanskrit texts. Here, set in kundan and rubies, it has been inverted as a necklace, with two delicate pendants fringed with Basra pearls.
Rounded breasts adorned with gems sandal-scented, Broad curving hips with girdle bands all belled, Sweet-sounding anklets making music on delicate feet, So do women enhance their beauty...

In the familiar and much-loved stories described above, jewellery plays a dramatic and central role. But on a softer and much more romantic note, it is the essential accoutrement of a seductive maiden whose anklets jingle enticingly as she walks. It is part of the solah shringar enjoined by ancient texts, the sixteen artful decorations used by a woman to make herself beautiful for her beloved. There on that list, amidst the scented baths, hair oils, fragrant unguents and henna, lie the essentials of jewellery, no less than eight separate items. Among them were the kundala or earrings, celebrated in folklore as love's messengers. The mala, or necklace, was to be placed around a swan-like neck; pre-eminent among the many kinds of necklaces was the mangalsutra, the tali of South India. It was and remains the sacred symbol of marriage from which a woman would never part unless she had to. There were bangles and anklets and karadarpana, the mirrored ring that permitted a quick glance at her own beauty. 

Nath, nose-ring, Himachal Pradesh, 19th cent. AD  The nath or nose-ring though not part of the ancient Indian repertoire has now become a staple. The gold here is studded with gems and pearls. At the upper end, the foliage is embellished with stones, while below tiny gold leaves shimmer in the light.
Jewellery, however, was not a feminine preserve. Men reveled in it as well, decorating their persons, their tools of work, whether they be weapons and shields or studded covers for the horns of animals. Each region had its stylistic variations or distinctions, and in the nuanced vocabulary of Sanskrit there were precise names for each piece identifying the design, the purpose and the significance. For pearl necklaces alone there was a plethora of names, the induchhanda for that with 1008 strings, the vijayachhanda for that with 504. So specific were the names that the original meaning of balika was an ear ornament "formed of three pearls comparable to the bakul flower".

Karnaphool and jhumka, Jaipur, ca. 19th cent. AD Pair of karnaphools (floral studs for the ears) with hanging jhumkas. White sapphires, Basra pearls and fine Jaipur enamelling feature in this pair, probably commissioned for a buyer from Lucknow.
From top to toe, both men and women adorned themselves with a dazzling array of jewellery as we see from the sculptures and paintings of the Gupta period and onwards. The head was decorated with the chudamani or crest jewel, the mukut or crown; the forehead with the tika that hung in the centre or with jewelled strips along the hairline. It was inauspicious to leave them naked, thus the profusion of jewellery for the ears—plugs, studs, hoops, graceful hanging jhumkas. The neck bore chokers, chains, collars, ropes of pearls and beads whereas armlets, bangles and bracelets covered upper and lower arms. Waists and hips, ample or sinous, carried belts and girdles made of gold or silver studded with stones; these could be rigid, flexible, braided or highly ornamented. Anklets graced the feet, almost always of silver, for to wear gold on the feet was to profane its deity, Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth. Only royalty considered themselves exempt from this observance. 

Armlet, Rajasthan, 19th cent. AD  A decorative and ornamental armlet with kundan gold work inset with diamonds. Note the brilliant red enamel so characteristic of Jaipur whose enamellers held the secret of its rich ruby colour.
From north to south, east to west, the great temples and sculptures of Bharhut, Sanchi, Belur and Halebid, Thanjavur, Orissa, Khajuraho, to name just a few, spread over time and under the influences of various dynasties, display this stunning wealth of the jeweller's art.

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