Monday, February 10, 2014

Funerary Beads with Earth Sweat Patina

Almost everything from Bactria that comes into any museum, private collection or into an antiquity dealer's shop is from the tomb of a person or from the buried ruins of the ancient culture.  In other words, the seals, amulets, beads and other artifacts in my Bactrian collection have lain underground for at least fifteen hundred years and some as many as four thousand five hundred years.  I will offer some examples of funerary beads from settlements in the region of Bactria.

First, let me describe some of the differences in the ancient beads that have been buried and the more recent handmade beads that have never been buried.  Needless to say, the differences are even more numerous when we compare the modern industrially produced beads with the long-buried ancient handmade beads.

The first noticeable thing might be the pebbly skin on the bead, resulting from the method of shaping and smoothing the gemstone with rough grit made from pulverized agates.  For example, the agate beads in the photos immediately below are from a settlement of the same peoples who settled in Bactria from about 2500 B C to 1600 B C. in the Kerman Desert of Iran.  Weathering of the polished beads is caused by long periods of exposure to earth minerals and earth movements due to floods or the cave-ins of the tombs.  This kind of wear and tear shows in scrapes and breaks and in circular cracks on the surface of the bead.  Another very important characteristic of ancient beads that have been buried is the dulling of the glow that the original polishing produced.

One ancient bead expert calls all these aging processes 'earth sweat patina,' and he uses such criteria to judge whether a bead is ancient or a modern reproduction.  The beads in the two photos below show characteristics of age.  The glow is dulled; the skin is pock-marked as if the skin had never been ground down past all the tiny crevices in the original piece of cut stone.  Also, the grit that was used to polish the beads left their own minute pimply tool marks on the beads.  These beads also show other characteristics of beads produced in ancient times, such as wear at the ends of the bead hole caused by the cord on which they were once worn for generations or centuries.

Ancient Agate Beads Bactrian Type Four Thousand - Two Thousand Years

Close-up view of same beads

In comparison are beads in the photos below that are ancient but still a thousand years younger than the beads above.  Their appearance reveals very little of the wear and tear and hardly any of the earth sweat patina and the rough grinding of the earlier polishing methods.  Their age is determined by their provenance from Bactria and the fact that they are almost identical to the sardonyx beads shown in The History of Beads by Lois Dubin.  According to that source, they were produced in the Roman period, that is, in the time when almost all of Europe and West Asia was a part of or a neighbor of the Roman emperor's domain.  This kind of bead was made in Central Asia -- Northeastern Afghanistan -- from about 200 BC to 400 AD.


Spiral Band Ancient Bead Balkh Province, Afghanistan                Close up view of same bead  200 BC - 400 AD

Moving backward to more ancient times again, we see this other string of Bactrian carnelian beads strung with old steatite beads and some newer onyx beads in the photos shown below.  This strand is published in Victor Sarianidi's -- the excavator of Bactria and Margiana -- book Necropolis of Gonur, which deals with funeral rites, funerary ornaments and utensils that were buried with the deceased.  


Ancient Bactrian Beads Authenticated by Archeologist and Published      Close-up of same beads

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