Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Faience and Stone Beads from the Tombs

Ancient Persian Faience Beads Dating Third to Second Millennium B C  
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 This attractive string of faience beads came from the ruins of an ancient site belonging to the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex.  Because these sites were not only a conglomerate of settlements strung out along the long established trade routes of Western Asian, they were also way stations along the major trade route.  Faience is a blend of clay based technology and glass production.  Silica or fine sand was heated and allowed to congeal around a fireproof rod.

Then it was glazed or not as the bead maker chose.  It was most often pigmented early in the process, but it was also made in its native color and then the pigment could be added during the glazing process.  Many of the beads in this string were made as a long tube and then simply broken or sawed into shorter pieces.  As in almost all necklaces strung together from findings from the ruins of ancient sites, this string contains very special stone and large ceramic beads as well.  

These ancient faience beads from Old Persia of the third to second millennium B.C. were found in various ancient ruined sites where they either came to the surface through erosion or were excavated by unauthorized prospectors for ancient artifacts. They found their way to a city merchant who sold them to an antiques dealer in New York City. That is where I found them. We do not have to take the word of the antiques dealer in order to acknowledge the origin of the beads. Such faience beads are shown in published works on the history, origins, techniques of manufacture and style of various periods in the reference works that I use for this particular period of the Bactria-Margiana cultural complex in Iran and Outer Iran. Outer Iran is a term used as we would use Greater Los Angeles, meaning not only the city but its exurbs as well. Iran's cultural exchanges extended from the foot of the west side of the Himalayas into the midst of what is now Turkey, from Turkmenistan in the north to the Lut and Sindh deserts in the South. 

Back to the string of beads: not all of the beads on the string are made of faience, but most of them are. They also include among the small beads some made of clear quartz, bright and dark shades of carnelian, turquoise that is now green, and lapis of which some have paled to gray. There is even a few tiny beads of coral. The unglazed gray and white striped bead may be of clay, not mixed nor fired into hardness in the same way as the faience beads. The other light gray, dark gray striped bead is the typical, highly valued Himalayan banded agate. Modern bead makers style these as dzi beads and are the sacred amulets of that region to this day. The round carnelian bead in the focal section of the string of beads is carnelian and shows the unintentional faceting on a round bead that is typical of that period. Such faceting cannot be avoided when smoothing the surface of the bead by holding it in hand while smoothing it on a smear of wet grit on a flat stone. The carnelian rondelle above the focal bead is very interesting in shape and in its baroque texture. 

Finally the ceramic rondelle bead strung with the focal may have been at one time decorated with pigment and a pattern which seems very faintly evident. These beads may well have been separated in time as far as their manufacture goes. Some may date from four thousand five hundred years ago, while others may date from closer to the end of that culture about three thousand five hundred years ago. 

Measurements: 21 inches in length; focal bead: 15 mm diameter  Contact me through the private message form above right.

Lois Sherr Dubin, The History of Beads, New York, 1987
Robert K. Liu, Collectible Beads, Vista, 1995
Victor Sarianidi, Necropolis of Gonur, Athens, 2007
Giancarlo Ligabue and Sandro Salvatori, Bactria, Venice, 198-

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