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Personal Ornaments in the Ancient Near East

Stone beads as personal ornaments

Technologies, Social Identities and the Emergence of Craft Specialisation and Elites

Stone bead pendants

Why did human beings invent and expand the use of personal ornaments?  What were the origins of stone bead-making? What were the earliest ‘precious stones?’  How did personal ornaments figure in the development of social inequalities?  What do they tell us about the emergence of craft specialisation?   How did dress come to be used as an arena for negotiation of social identities (age, gender, status, group affiliation) and the establishment of social networks?  What can beads tell us about exchange,  concepts of value and prestige, and social-political relationships, such as the emergence of elites?  

Surprisingly, there are no previous studies of how bead-making evolved over very long-term time scales.   The transition from earliest bead use to ornaments in urban societies is still not well understood,  although it was in this transition that stone  (and later metal) beads became diverse, widely traded, and used as an expression of social identities.   This project explores the emergence of stone bead-making in Neolithic western Asia and the further proliferation of materials, styles and trade relationships that emerged in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age.

Stone beads discovered in situ (Çatalhöyük)

Beads first appear in the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic and were made from ivory, shell and bone.   Stone beads became numerous only at the terminal Palaeolithic/dawn of the Neolithic;  green minerals were deliberately sought out, probably for symbolic reasons relating to plants.  Stone bead-making expanded in the Neolithic and Neolithic workshops reveal evidence for early forms of craft specialisation, whilst intensification  in stone bead manufacture coincides with the spread of pastoralism.   These patterns were first discovered by this project (Wright and Garrard 2003).  The project has published one of the most detailed accounts of Neolithic stone bead technology in the Near East (outside of the Indus),  based on some 11,000 artefacts (Wright et al. 2008).  This work has expanded to other sites and periods (eg, Catalhoyuk).

This project is involved in ongoing research on

  • Paleolithic and Neolithic shell beads from Azraq-Jilat (22 sites) and Kharaneh 4 (Jordan)
  • six Neolithic stone bead workshops at Azraq-Jilat (Jordan) 
  • the beads of Catalhoyuk,  Turkey
  • stone beads from Asiklihoyuk, Turkey
  • ornaments of 4th millennium Byblos, Lebanon (with Dr Gassia Artin)
  • ornaments of 4th millennium Wadi Feinan 100, Jordan
  • comparative studies in collaboration with scholars from across the world
  • an experimental programme on production of stone beads using simple low-cost technologies discovered in the study of the ancient ornaments of Azraq-Jilat and Catalhoyuk (with Roseleen Bains, UCL).  Experimental tools have been commissioned (bow drill, flint drills, anvils, abraders) and samples of stones from the source area in the Jordanian study  are being used in the experiments.

Related outputs

Selected publications
    • Wright, K. I., Critchley, P., Garrard, A. N., Bains, R., Baird, D., & Groom, S. 2008. Stone bead technologies and early craft specialization: insights from two Neolithic sites in eastern Jordan. Levant, 40(2): 131-165.
    • Wright, K. I. & Garrard, A. N. 2003. Social identities and the expansion of stone beadmaking in Neolithic western Asia. Antiquity, 77(296): 267-284.
    • Wright, K. I. (in press) Beads and the body: ornament technologies associated with Building 3 at Çatalhöyük (Chapter 17). In R. Tringham & M. Stevanovic (Eds.), House Lives: Building, Inhabiting, Excavating a House at Çatalhöyük, Turkey. Reports from the BACH Area, Çatalhöyük, 1997-2003: 17.1-17.44. Los Angeles: Monographs of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California at Los Angeles.
Public Conferences and Lectures
    • Wright, K. I., Bains, R., & Artin, G. (organisers) 2010. Conference Workshop: Beads and Personal Ornaments in the Ancient Near East: Technologies, Typology, and Social Significance. Workshop presented at the 7th International Congress on Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.  Conference co-sponsored by The British Museum and the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London, UK,  16-17 April 2010.
    • Wright, K. I. 2010. Lecture: Personal ornaments and the emergence of craft specialisation in the Near East. Paper presented at the 7th International Congress on Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.  Workshop: Beads and Personal Ornaments in the Ancient Near East: Technologies, Typology, and Social Significance (organised by K. Wright, R. Bains, G. Artin). Conference co-sponsored by The British Museum and the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London, UK,  16-17 April 2010.
    • Wright, K. I. 2009. Lecture: Prehistoric jewellery and the origins of craft specialisation in the Levant. Liverpool: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Palestine Exploration Fund,  Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society and Palestine Exploration Fund Joint Lecture, London, 19 March 2009.
    • Wright, K. I. 2008. Lecture: Craft production and the social significance of body ornaments in the Near Eastern Neolithic: manufacture and use of  stone beads in Neolithic Jordan and at Catalhoyuk, Turkey . Paper presented at the 6th International Congress on Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, University of Rome, Rome, Italy,  5 - 10 May 2008.
    • Wright, K. I. 2008. Lecture: Craft specialization theory and the Near East: significance, problems of method and the case of stone beads. Liverpool: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for Near Eastern Archaeology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK, 29 February - 2 March 2008.
Public Engagement and Impact
    • Thus far, public engagement has been cooperation with the British Museum on the workshop within the major 2010 international conference (International Congress on Archaeology of the Ancient Near East) described above.  This was largely an academic conference, but persons from the private sector did attend.  An interactive website is planned to allow for public dissemination of this research to a wider audience.
    • This project is being carried out in collaboration with scholars from countries (eg, Gassia Artin, Lebanon) where studies of the technology of the personal ornaments and early stone technologies are only beginning.  The article in Levant (see above) is the first time that anyone has presented detailed evidence for the earliest craft specialization in manufacture of early stone ornaments and it and previous research has been cited widely.

Funding

  • Wainwright Fund
  • Society of Antiquaries
  • UCL

Project Leader:


Project Partners:

  • Roseleen Bains – Catalhoyuk beads
  • Gassia Artin (Lebanese University, Beirut) - Byblos
  • Andrew Garrard – Director, Azraq-Jilat
  • Pat Critchley (MA, UCL – independent researcher)  – Azraq-Jilat stone beads
  • Dani Bar-Yosef – (University of Haifa) – Catalhoyuk shell beads
  • Nerissa Russell – (Cornell University) Catalhoyuk bone beads
  • Louise Martin – Azraq-Jilat bone beads
  • James Lankton  (UCL) – bead technology studies
  • Simon Groom (formerly UCL) - Geology

Additional collaborators:

  • Mihriban Özbasaran (Istanbul Universitesi) – Director, Asiklihoyuk
  • Ian Hodder (Stanford University) – Director, Catalhoyuk
  • Lynn Meskell (Stanford University) – Catalhoyuk
  • Mohammed Najjar (Jordan) – Co-Director, Faynan 100
  • Lisa Maher (University of Cambridge) – Director, Kharaneh 4
  • Douglas Baird (University of Liverpool) – chipped stone – Azraq-Jilat
  • Andrew Gardner – Personal adornment, Roman empire

Keywords:


Further information:


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