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Making Trade Beads: The Creation Process

A bead is a tiny decorative object where a small hole is pierced through it to put a thread or string through it. Beads are divided into many categories depending on the materials used to make them, the manufacturing process, place of origin, the pattern on the surface and the general shape.

In the early days, beads were made from materials that were readily available and that could be pierced through easily. The beads became more complex as the technology improved that could be used to drill into the beads. In modern times, most beads are made out of plastic, glass, stones and metal.

Based on the size of the bead, it comes as a shock to many what significance this tiny object has to the history of humans. According to archeologists, human beings have been making beads for at least 30,000 years. Materials such as stone, bones and shells were used to make the earlier beads. The first artificial material that was used to make beads was Faience which is a glazed quartzite paste. Beads that were made from this artificial material were traded widely in the old world throughout Europe, Asia, African and even the Mediterranean area.

In the ancient times, beads were used as a form of jewelry. The people would adorn with beads all over; be it in their hair, or as hand bracelets and necklaces. Clothes that are made of beads were also a common sight and beads were also added to baskets, boxes and other common house hold wares.

Beads that were made out of the dentalium shell were used as a means of settling disputes. Beads were first used as a means of trade by European explorers and colonists. They used glass as well as ceramic beads to trade with the native Indians. However, the introduction of these glass beads did not stop the native Indians from making their stone, bone and shell beads that they had been making long before the Europeans came into play.

The Europeans glass beads originated mainly from Venice and Holland. As their availability increased their value decreased with time. Ceramic beads ceased to be popular as the glass beads came to saturate the markets. They in turn grew in popularity because of their variety in colors, price as well as the supply that was always there. They eventually completely replaced naturally made beads.