Re: Blue & White Mali Beads
Re: Need ID Help Please! Ancient? Blue & White Mali Dug Beads -- AnneLFG Post Reply Edit Forum Where am I?
Posted by: Beadman Post Reply
11/16/2019, 14:35:58

Hello Anne,

Your beads, and many that are recovered from the Niger River occupation sites, dating from ca 1,000 years ago, are mosaic-glass beads. That means they were composed from pre-formed multicolored elements. Among the mosaic-glass types, the most-common and most-admired type is millefiori work. But there are other types of mosaic-glass. And different types or aspects can be combined together.

Without actually having handled and examined your bead(s), I would say that they are probably from the group I call "ribbon-glass." A straitified block has been stretched and reduced to a long thin striped element; and then a piece of this component has been hot-worked to become a bead.

This process is the essence of mosaic-glass work. The glassworkers first make multicolored elements. Then, once they have these elements, they proceed to use them to make beads.

This was an original and impressive strategy, that replaced the much more labor-intensive approach of taking some glass from a crucible, and manipulating it into a bead. The most-impressive examples of direct crucible work are the Phoenician Period head pendants and eye beads from ca. 500 BCE.

The genius of performing mosaic-glass work is three-fold: 1) beads with similar matching patterns can be made easily and much more quickly; 2) The patterns are more intricate and detailed than is direct furnace-work: 3) great numbers of beads can be made in a much shorter expendature of time and effort. In addition, it's possible and likely that mosaic-glass elements were sold or traded to other (more primative) glass industries that did not make mosaic-glasses, thereby helping them make more-intricate beads.

Your thoughts on how your beads were made, essentially, suggest that a beadmaker did various things to make a bead. But this is not the process. The beadmaker exploited preformed elements that were available to him, and from them made your bead(s)—and probably many others.

Among the beads recovered from digs in Mali, the most-frequent color combination is translucent blue with white. We see this combination most-often with millefiori eye beads. But there are other mosaic-glass types, including ribbon-glass pieces being used similarly to millefiori (making patchwork beads), and beads with ribbons that were spirally-rolled to make striped beads.

There is a whole class of mosaic-glass beads in which the ribbons have beed stretched and applied to a mandrel, in a random (or predefined) process, that probably involved winding, looping, crossing, and other possible steps. And the point of this work was to make beads that imitate the bandings of banded agate beads. (And, of course, this was a strategy used by many beadmakers since antiquity, who made mosaic-glass beads in more-modern times, to copy the appearance of banded agate—these being called "agate-glass beads.")

There are also a lot of beads that are just plain translucent blue glass. All (or most) of these beads were probably made in Egypt, from post-Roman times. The occupation sites in Mali were essentially places where Islamic scholars went to "get away" from the bustle of busy thriving cities and communities—and they went to Mali for R&R, to study the Qoran, and to make and pursue trading partnerships. And, I suppose, they brought with them a lot of Egyptian glass beads to trade to local people. This is the "big piecture" I have after having studied these beads, and contemplated their origins and context since 1983.

I have discussed mosaic-glass technology a number of times here at the Forum. Here's a post from 2006:

Be well. Jamey

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Modified by Beadman at Sat, Nov 16, 2019, 14:40:54

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