Tuesday, July 05, 2011


Beads & Shells

In "Quotable: Descendants of Tribes," I cited John Trudell: "So, these White people, they're the descendants of tribes, there was a time in their ancestry when they wore feathers, all right? And they wore beads and shells." Of course, White folks have never stopped wearing beads and, arguably, the archaeological record shows an explosion of bead use by the indigenous people of North America after they got access to cheap European glass trade beads.

In any case, I wanted to provide some examples of just what some early Europeans made and wore long before the Romans expanded their empire and drastically changed life in previously non-Roman areas. First, an etymological note: According to Lois Sherr Dubin, writing in The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present (New York: Abrams, 2009), "The word bead is derived from the Anglo-Saxon bidden ('to pray') and bede ('prayer')" (p. 79).

The first example is a shell necklace from an archaeological site near Dolní Věstonice in the present-day Czech Republic. According to Palmer et al. (Unearthing the Past: The Great Archaeological Discoveries that Have Changed History, 2009), the artifacts at this Gravettian site date from 27,000 to 24, 000 BC.

Next up is a Magdalenian necklace of dentalium shell and bear, lion, fox and deer teeth from Rocher de la Peine, Les Eyzies (Dordogne), France. It dates from about 10,050 BC.

Below is an ibex head necklace with a bison head clasp made around 11,000-10,000 BC from ibex bone (see Dubin p. 27). It was excavated from a Paleolithic site of the Magdalenian culture in the Labastide commune in the French Pyrenees.

The shale beads pictured below are part of a cache of over 700 beads found at Nab's Head, Pembrokeshire, Wales. The beads date from about 10,500 years ago.

The next two images are not of beads, shells, or feathers but they do give a sense of life in pre-Roman Europe. Pictured below is an interior portion of the Gundestrap Cauldron, found in a peat bog in Himmerland, Denmark in 1891. The cauldron is generally believed to have been created in the 2nd or 1st century BC. The central, antlered figure, holding a snake and a torc, is the Celtic god Cernunnos.

The final image is an artist's rendition of the ancient (ca. 200 BC) fort of Castell Henllys in present-day Pembrokeshire, Wales.

See also: "Prehistoric Stonehenge visitors came from the Mediterranean and the Alps" on Heritage-Key.com

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