Sunday, October 16, 2011

Evidence of Ancient Trade: Glass Bead(s) in Far East Tomb

Anhui Province, China in red.
Another fascinating discovery!  So, the tomb dates back to between 2,485 and 2,230 years ago, more or less.  Does this mean the recovered glass bead (actually, in the photo it looks like there is residue from a second similar glass bead) discovered in this tomb was already about 600 - 800 years old when it found its way to the owner of the tomb?  I mean, if it was of a type of bead made in the 10th century BCE in the Mediterranean area, that means it was made about 1000 BCE, making it about 3,000 years old!  It travelled a long way.  Wonder how many hands it passed through, and what its story was!  Does "dragonfly" signify an octagonal shaped bead?

West Asian Bead Found in Anhui's Ancient Tomb

Pub Date: 11-10-12 16:45 Source:

A West Asian dragonfly-eye-shaped bead was found in a 2,000-odd-year Chinese tomb in Dangtu, Anhui province, indicating noblemen living in China's Warring States period (475 BC-221BC) were exposed to West Asian civilization.

Excavated from the roughly 400-sqm tomb were more than 40 cultural relics, of which most were potteries and celadon wares. Judging from those possessions, the occupant is expected to be an aristocrat of Yue, one of the seven major countries in the Warring States period, archaeologists said.

The most eye-catching burial object is a glass bead resembling a dragonfly eye in appearance. Such kind of jewellery was made by nomadic tribes in Mediterranean countries in the 10th century BC and believed to keep misfortune away from the wearers as well as to play the role of money, Gong Xicheng, deputy director of the provincial archaeological institute said.

Much contact between nomadic tribes of West Asia and China enabled the dragonfly-eye-shaped jewellery to take off in Chinese privileged class in the Warring States period, Gong said.

(By Zheng Weiling)
I don't have time to do research on what glass beads may have been around circa 1000 BCE, and I can't be sure the bead in question is actually that old.  It may be a mistranslation.  I did find this image of some "late Roman beads" that look somewhat similar (although not the red color):

The problem is that they're "Late Roman" - which I assume means something like 3rd or 4th century CE - way too young to have been traded during the Warring States period in Chinese herstory. 

Here is a necklace made out of somewhat similr looking beads, dating from the 2nd to 4th century CE, Roman:

$5,000 for sale at

There are many different types of Roman (scroll down the page to get to the Roman beads) and other glass beads at Ancient Suns, Beads of Antiquity


Jamey D. Allen said...

There is considerable garbling in the Chinese text, or its translation. The typical Near Eastern eye beads date from about 500 BCE (+ or -). These beads went to China, where they inspired local manufacture (which would therefore have been later). The "Roman Period" beads are actually from nearly 1000 years later, in the Islamic Period. All this has been worked-out by bead scholars--such as myself. It is often pointless to compare beads that "look similar." One has to determine HOW the beads were made, and to compare this manufacture to known industries. Or, a knowledgeable bead researcher may actually recognize the beads and be able to identify them. Jamey D. Allen - Bead Historian

Jan said...

Thanks for the additional information. The beads in the tomb aren't Roman Period unless someone did some time travel or put the beads in the tomb much later on! The dating of the Warring States period in the article is correct, so whether the beads were made in China or made further west they would have been made prior to the Han Dynasty, that began in c. 220 BCE. Fascinating!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...