Book Feature: The History of Beads

July 12, 2017 , In: Art History, Book Reviews, Culture

How many times have you gone to a museum and spent a large chunk of time viewing the cases of jewelry worn thousands of years ago? I am always on the lookout for what kinds of beads people of different cultures and times wore; materials, shapes, sizes, style, and more. I often take photos, including the information tags, to reference later. Perhaps you don’t have easy access to museums or prefer not going to museums for whatever reason (cost, time, having to wear pants, being around people….). Today I’m going to highlight the next best thing. 


If you enjoy history, especially if you love beads, The History of Beads: From 30,000 B.C. to the Present is an excellent and fascinating read. Throughout history, beads were used for more than just adornment purposes, but also for currency, talismans, and spiritual purposes. The book was originally published in 1987, then updated in 2009 with new archaeological finds and a chapter on contemporary adornment since the 1980s. The unfortunate thing is this book seems to be out of print and you might have to do some digging to buy an affordable copy (make sure it’s the 2009 edition!). However, your local library might carry it. 



The first thing you notice about the book is it’s big and it’s heavy…like a textbook. However, do not let the size intimidate you. It’s a very readable 365 pages with lots of large, lush photography. 


There’s an incredible 8-page foldout timeline of bead history


And a 2 page spread with names of bead shapes:


Because I love history and how various cultures and people mingled and influenced each other, some of my favorite images in the book are the maps of bead migration, of which there are several.  



This book is fascinating, easy to read, and beautiful to look at. It shows where we came from, how the world progressed, and for those of us who are “bead obsessed,” shows us we have many sisters and brothers in solidarity throughout history. With the knowledge gained from reading this book, whenever someone says something disparaging about your bead “problem,” you will have a snappy comeback story about how it’s not “just a bead.”


Jennifer Cameron

Combining fire and glass since 2005, Jen Cameron discovered jewelry making after realizing a small child could disappear in the growing collection of beads sitting around the house. Jen is the adoring mother of two, jackpot winner in the husband category, and zookeeper of several pets. Jen is also the instigator for bringing together this team of innovative, talented, passionate and dynamic women to write for Art Jewelry Elements.
  1. Reply

    What a find. I would love to get my hands on it and read it. Being an Indian, I feel very sad that Arikamedu no longer produces or sells beads

  2. Reply

    I need to find a copy! 🙂

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