Collecting Ancient Glass Beads

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					Long before gemstones were faceted or pearls were cultured, ancient glass beads
ranked on a par with the most precious gems. Beads of all kinds have been traded,
collected, and treasured throughout human history. Beads are one of the oldest forms
of art. They have been used for tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) of
years. A tenth century Arab once said that the Vikings would "go to any length to get
hold of colored beads". Certainly colored beads of flame worked glass from Birka,
native amber and jet, carnelian and silver imported from India and Iran via Islamic
and traders, rock crystal, garnet, amethyst, gold, and bronze were other types of beads
highly prized by people from the ancient world. The word bead comes from the Anglo
Saxon words bidden (to pray) and bede (prayer.)

Collecting ancient glass beads is a field of growing popular interest. Glassmaking
originated in the Syro-Palestine area around the third millennium BC and was
developed in Egypt in 1330 BC. The Phoenicians became the greatest glassmakers
and exporters of the ancient world. Chemistry for the coloration of glass was already
in place during the reign of Tutankhamun in Egypt (circa 1330 B.C.), and colored
glass was heavily exploited for furniture and architectural inlay for several centuries
thereafter. Although the Romans had nothing to do with the invention of glass, during
the first century A.D. they did play a primary role in the industrialization of the
glassmaking process in the Mediterranean world.

The glass seed beads, sometimes referred to as trade beads, played an important, if not
somewhat of an ignominious role in the colonization of North America. Columbus'
first trade with the people of the Americas was done with the use of red hats and
string beads to gain the confidence and admiration of the indigenous people. October
12, 1492, Columbus recorded in his logbook that the natives of San Salvador Island
were given red caps and glass beads. This is the earliest written record of glass beads
in the Americas.

With the exploration and settlement of the New World, the demand for beads grew
higher and higher. Explorers, traders and missionaries had great use for beads as a unit
of exchange with the people of the New World, and Africa. Beads are not just
adornment! No, beads have been used by mankind for centuries, and not even just
modern mankind. This makes them a fascinating and popular item to collect
especially the ancient glass beads.

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