Early forms of beadwork have been found at archaeological sites located in: Africa, Middle East and Sungir or what is present day Russia.
In 1955, a large archaeological site was discovered in Sungir, which is located about 200 kilometers outside of Moscow. The human remains found at the site, date back to 34,000 to 30,000 B.C. and show an elaborate burial of an adult male and two adolescents. The adults were covered in approximately 13,000 beads, which were primarily ivory and possibly sewed using sinew or plant fibers.
In Ancient Egypt, beadwork was discovered at burial grounds that date back to 14th century B.C. These sites show some of the earliest forms of glass beads, supplementing the punctured stones, seeds, shells and animal teeth that were more prevalent at the time. In Kenya, most beads were initially created from clay, wood, bone, copper and brass. When glass beads were introduced to the region through trade, seed beads became a part of materials used for embroidery and embellishments of clothes and other objects.
Many forms of beadwork were used in Ancient Greece, Turkey and the Roman Empire, with beads being applied to religious ceremonial items. Murano glass beads with pearls became popular around the 14th century during the Renaissance era in Italy. By the 17th century, beadwork became very popular in England, where purses, jewelry boxes, small pictures and baskets were liberally decorated with beads, pearls and gilt thread.
Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Tibet and India also have a rich history of beads. Bead making and exporting of stone beads were made in India as early as 2000 B.C. Beads slowly began to spread to East and Southeast Asia. Beads were frequently used to decorate clothing and weapons in Japan. In the Philippines glass beads were used as an indication of social and economic status and the owner’s wealth in the community. Many gold beads were discovered at archaeological sites, suggesting important influences of gold mining in the region.
Native American tribes used shells, pearls, bones, teeth, and stones as decoration for their Regalia as well as on items for religious ceremonies. The early designs were mostly geometrical. Seed beads were introduced to Native Americans through European trade in the mid-1800s leading to expanded patterns with floral designs becoming popular. Bead embroidery was used to decorate Regalia.
Thanks to Yana Zorina for putting together the "Earliest Forms of Beadwork".
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