Beads have been made, traded and used since 38,000 BC - the first documented find. They have no purpose other than that which people assign to them and in various cultures and systems they have operated as repositories of sacred knowledge, possessors of curative powers, prompts for prayer and ritual, passports to the afterlife and standard units of value in market systems. They are among the earliest evidence of abstract thinking as they materialise abstract notions such as power and wealth. The emergence of the modern concept of jewellery is associated with the emergence of identity in relation to large scale communities and in many societies social differences were demonstrated through the display of adornment.


The word 'bead' is derived from an Anglo Saxon word meaning ‘to pray' and the religions of around two-thirds of the world's populations utilise some sort of bead in prayer, Christianity being one of the last great religions to do so. Throughout history beads have frequently been one of the first items produced by societies experimenting/ developing new technologies


Glass beads are commonly associated with Europe or Africa but far closer to home, South Asia is historically a great centre of glass and stone bead making. Arikamedu, near Pondicherry in South India was the earliest known centre of Indo-Pacific bead making operating from around 2000 BC. There is evidence from this time of trade between Rome and South India which highlights the importance of India as a centre of gems and beads and the ubiquity of beads as a trade item. Indo-Pacific beads were frequently traded by Islamic and Roman traders and have been found as far away as West Africa.


Bead making soon spread from South India to sites in Asia in modern day Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam and then later to other sites notably Java and Sumatra. All of the ten known centres of Indo-Pacific bead making maintained communication with each other. Prior to 1500 the Asian and Islamic worlds were wealthier and more sophisticated than Europe. The patterns of the Asian maritime bead trade, which began 1000-2000 BC, remained largely in place until the nineteenth century when European beads and trader came to the fore in the Asian trade.


Teeth have been used as beads since the Paleolithic period - when the wearing parts of an animal's skeleton represented the attainment of some power over, or protection from, the animal world. If one such ‘bead' provided such power or protection a whole necklace was a great deal more potent.


This installation of individual beads and necklaces from spans beads from Mesopotamia (1000-2000BC) through to the twentieth century and includes a selection of the collectors favourite ceramic, glass, metal and stone beads from Java, Mesopotamia, Yemen, Borneo, Java and West Africa.




Objectspace's Vault Programme features distinctive works from private collections. Objectspace is keen to work with private collectors to enable them to share their collections and enthusiasms on a short term basis. Objectspace acknowledges the generosity of collector Andrew Pendergrast.    

Necklace of glass beads of Asian origin.