Stone Beads of the Indus Tradition: New Perspectives on Harappan Bead Typology, Technology and Documentation

Above: Bead end wear (a. chipped, ground, high polish, string wear, b. chipped, ground, worn, string wear, c. chipped, popped out drill hole, string wear, d. chipped, worn smooth, some chipping around drill hole, concave wear, high polish).

The beauty of this paper is that it sets out very clearly the procedure needed to document bead types, the careful measurement and classification steps to start understanding a specific bead tradition. It's a compact manual, delving into examining how manufacturing steps may or may not be completed before utilization, how to look for signs of wear and tear, clues to a bead's possible "social life." For example, particularly interesting is the beautiful, long carnelian beads known from Chanhudaro of which Kenoyer writes: "None of these beads were ever used as they were buried before ever being marketed and there is no trace of string-wear on the interior drill holes." (p. 160). Indeed, he continues, "These minute features of beads are important to record in order to better reconstruct their use life and role in the ancient economic and cultural context where they were produced." The bead archaeologist, with an assortment of tools from photography to silicone impressions and electron scanning microscopes at their disposal, can be a sophisticated detective.

There are carefully drawn diagrams, a set of charts and measurement templates, and other details that go into an updated April 2016 template on Indus Bead Recording from the Harappa project that point to how a comprehensive bead analysis from all sites can one day be used to gain much deeper understanding of a tradition that obviously played a major role in Indus culture, from the bead collections we have found, to their discovery far away in ancient Mesopotamian tombs.

The net result, as the author summarizes, "However, at the same time new data has been collected to better characterize Indus stone beads and to develop a more complex and detailed typology that is more sensitive to chronological changes in technology and style. . .. The new approach to stone bead identification and interpretation that I am developing is a continuously evolving process and must be modified as new techniques of analysis and documentation are developed."

This article was first published in Stone Beads of South & South-East Asia: Archaeology, Ethnography and Global Connection, Edited by Dr. Alok Kanungo, Gandhinagar/New Delhi: Indian Institute of Technology/Aryan Books International (2017). Another article from that book by Dr. Kenoyer is also available here, Bead Technologies at Harappa, 3300-1900 BCE: A Comparative Summary.