Great question. Tentative answer: 1. Ban Chiang
Re: What were the shops like where the treasured ancient beads of today were produced? -- art Post Reply Edit Forum Where am I?
Posted by: Will Post Reply
03/17/2017, 15:14:57

Hi Art,

Great question. It has really made me think.

I love the photos of your workshop. An obsessive maniac’s perhaps, but more certainly a space where beauty is helped to appear.

I think a lot of workshops in the ancient past may have looked very similar (though with fewer yoghourt containers or egg cartons probably). Generally and with a few exceptions, we have very little knowledge as to the conditions under which beads were made or about the social relationships between the beadmakers and the consumers. We can only hypothesize and extrapolate from the fragments of information we may have about a specific culture.

I say “a specific culture” because my own sense is that every locale generated substantially different production methods and trade relationships. Already, in ancient times, trade networks existed on an almost global scale; coins made in Rome show up in what is now southern Vietnam, beads made in Java are found in Alexandria, and vice versa. But it was very different from the way in which cybertechnologies have enabled a kind of global homogenization in transnational production methods that eliminates the individualized or localized solution.

Let me give four examples of how different those separate localized solutions once were.

My first is Ban Chiang in Northeastern Thailand. We’re fortunate to know more about the social relationships of the people who lived there in the first millennium BCE than at any other site in SE Asia, thanks to the brilliant analyses of grave sites and skeletal remains by Michael Pietruzewsky from the University of Hawaii. We know that this was a culture that lasted for more than 2,000 years while being non-hierarchical and non-aggressive, and with substantial gender equality. This apparently isolated inland community was not cut off at all in fact, and the people who lived there showed an ongoing curiosity with regard to technologies that were initiated elsewhere and a wonderful capacity to adapt them to availaible local resources - bronze production, rice cultivation, glass-and bead-making, cotton and quite possibly silk production. These weren’t imported as foreign im-plants; we know that because of the absence of foreign iconographies in the things they produced. New technologies were adapted for local purposes. Bronze was the most valued decorative medium and their knowledge of lost-wax casting outstripped that of bronze-makers in China. Glass was used for beads and ear ornaments, and it’s highly probable that women worked alongside men in the workshops. The objects they produced were valued, but not particularly as status symbols, and they would have been distributed within the wider family, or exchanged and bartered locally for other necessary items - rice, textiles, vegetables, game, pork, fish, bronze and pottery.

Images: blue glass ear ornament (55mm); red glass disc beads (d. 13-18mm).

BanChiang330am.jpg (191.3 KB)  BanChiang253em.jpg (120.8 KB)  

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