Sunday, 22 July 2018

Indo-Pacific beads from Europe to Japan? Another fifth- to seventh-century AD global distribution

The aim of the following post is to briefly discuss another global distribution from Late Antiquity, this time of Indo-Pacific beads. Indo-Pacific beads were made in southern India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia from the third century BC onwards, and by c. 400 to 700 AD they have an impressive distribution stretching from northern and eastern Africa across to China, Korea and Japan, with recent research demonstrating that they were exported to Europe at this time too.

Distribution of Indo-Pacific beads and Jatim beads during Late Antiquity, c.AD 400 to c.700, showing both findspots (dots) and production sites (stars) thought to be active during finds of the fifth to seventh centuries; Indo-Pacific beads are shown in orange and Jatim beads in red, with the latter included here for interest due to the fact that an example has been recovered from the Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike alongside a sizeable quantity of Indo-Pacific. For a larger version of this map, click here. Note, the map is based on the sources listed in fn. 1 and is not exhaustive; rather, it is intended to offer an impression of the wide distribution of these beads across Eurasia and Africa in this era based on published discussions. Likewise, findspots of Jatim beads are very general for some territories and are only be plotted at a country/region level in these cases. Image: C. R. Green.

Previous posts on this site have discussed fifth- to seventh-century AD global distributions of Early Byzantine and Late Sasanian objects stretching across Eurasia and Africa. The following piece looks at an additional global distribution from Late Antiquity, this time of tiny glass beads produced in southern India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, which are recognizable both morphologically/typologically and by chemical analysis due to their use of Southern Asian high aluminous soda glass. These Indo-Pacific monochrome drawn beads were first produced in the third century BC and continued to be made through until the early twenty-first century in India, but they seem to have reached their widest pre-modern distribution from the late fourth century through to the seventh century.(1) For example, over 150,000 of these beads were discovered during excavations of the Yongningsi Temple site in the Northern Wei capital of Luoyang, China, founded by the Empress Wu in AD 516 and destroyed by lightning in 534.(2) Similarly, thousands of these beads have been recovered from fifth- to seventh-century Silla and Kofun tombs in Korea and Japan, and significant numbers have also been found on a number of sites in Africa—indeed, 51% of the beads discovered from the Late Roman/Early Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike, Egypt, are Indo-Pacific beads, with finds from this site also including a probably sixth-century Jatim bead made on the Indonesian island of Java, and such beads are also found as far afield as sixth- to seventh-century Zanzibar (Tanzania) and the Late Garamantian kingdom in the Fazzan area of the Libyan Sahara.(3)

In this light, recent work by Constantin Pion and Bernard Gratuze is of particular interest as it extends this Late Antique distribution of Indo-Pacific beads even further, into the far west of Eurasia. They have demonstrated that thousands of these tiny beads were imported into continental Europe during the fifth and sixth centuries, being found on 44 sites stretching from Spain across to Serbia, with one cemetery in France (Saint-Laurent-des-Hommes, Dordogne) containing as many as 3,037 of these Indo-Pacific beads.(4) Pion and Gratuze date the graves containing these beads primarily to the period from the mid-fifth to later sixth centuries and note that these are the smallest of the glass beads that appear in early medieval European cemeteries, being predominantly c. 2.5mm or smaller in diameter and green in colour. In 75% of the graves where the deposition context is clear, these tiny imported beads were used within necklaces, whilst in 25% of graves they were used to decorate the embroidery of textiles, notably headresses of silk, and it is possible that they arrived in Europe already attached to such textiles as well as on their own (the latter witnessed by the discovery of uniform strings of these beads at the Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike).

Indo-Pacific beads discovered in the Roman/Early Byzantine cemetery at Qau, Egypt, similar to those discovered in fifth- to sixth-century Europe, from bead assemblage UC74134 (image: Petrie Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).

As to the context of these imports from India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, it should be remembered that they do not stand alone as Red Sea and Indian Ocean products traded through to western Europe in the fifth to seventh centuries AD. Perhaps the most obvious of these other imports were the garnets used in the polychrome gold jewellery of this period that is found widely distributed across Europe, notable examples including the garnet cloisonné items discovered in the late fifth-century burial of Childeric (at Tournai, Belgium) and the probably mid- to late sixth-century shoulder clasps from the early seventh-century Sutton Hoo ship-burial (Suffolk, England); these garnets have been shown via archaeometric data to have had their origins in India and Sri Lanka.(5) Likewise, the cowrie shells that were popular all across early medieval northern Europe and Anglo-Saxon England as amulets and elements within necklaces are believed to have their origins either in the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean, whilst recent studies of the large number of ivory rings found both in fifth- to seventh-century England and on the continent indicate that they came from the tusks of African savannah elephants, probably obtained via the Red Sea from the east coast of Africa.(6) Lastly, it is likely that a number of other gemstones in use in Europe during this period, such as sapphires and perhaps amethysts, were definitely or possibly ultimately obtained from India/Sri Lanka, as were most certainly the spices such as pepper that are recorded in impressive quantities in Europe during this period and after: for example, the mid-seventh-century Merovingian king Chlothar III granted an annual rent of 30 pounds of pepper (grown in India) to the monastery of Corbie in northern France, along with sizeable amounts of other spices including cinnamon (from Sri Lanka) and cloves (from Indonesia).(7)

Finally, in addition to such Indo-Pacific beads, the map included at the start of this post also shows the distribution of Jatim beads made in East Java, Indonesia, and these deserve a brief concluding comment too. Such beads were produced from the end of the fourth century AD through until perhaps the seventh century, and have a fairly extensive distribution in Southeast Asia and across to Korea and Japan, where—like Indo-Pacific beads—they are found in Silla Kingdom and Kofun period tombs. Although no examples of these beads are (yet) known from sites in Europe, at least some definitely made their way to the fifth-/sixth-century Byzantine Empire, as an example was found at the Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike, Egypt, in 1999. This is, in itself, fascinating and worthy of note. However, what is particularly interesting about these beads is that they also help illustrate trade in the opposite direction too, as recent compositional analysis indicates that both Early Byzantine and Sasanian Persian glass was used to produce some of these beads in East Java!(8)

The distribution of possible Red Sea and Indian Ocean imports in fifth- to seventh-century Britain; click here for a larger version of this map. Finds of garnet are indicated by diamonds, cowries by dots, ivory rings by open squares, and amethysts by stars (image: C. R. Green).

The stunning gold, garnet and millefiori glass shoulder-clasps from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, using garnets imported from India or Sri Lanka; although they were deposited in the early seventh-century, Noël Adams has concluded that they were probably made in the mid- to late sixth century, see N. Adams, 'Rethinking the Sutton Hoo shoulder clasps and armour', in C. Entwistle & N. Adams (eds.), Intelligible Beauty: Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery (London, 2010), pp. 83–112 (image: British Museum).

A probable elephant ivory ring from an early Anglo-Saxon bag, found at Ruskington, Lincolnshire; such rings from early Anglo-Saxon burials have been to shown to be cut from the base of tusk of an African savannah elephant (image: C. R. Green). 

A cowrie shell from the Red Sea or Indian Ocean found in an Anglo-Saxon grave in Lincolnshire (image: PAS).

The fifth- or sixth-century AD Escrick Ring, found in Yorkshire, set with a central cabochon sapphire gem from Sri Lanka (image: Yorkshire Museums Trust, CC BY-SA 4.0).

Notes

1.     The distribution map of Indo-Pacific and Jatim beads and production sites in the fifth to seventh centuries AD included here is based on a number of sources including C. Pion & B. Gratuze, 'Indo-Pacific glass beads from the Indian subcontinent in Early Merovingian graves (5th–6th century AD)', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 51–64; A. K. Carter, 'The Production and Exchange of Glass and Stone Beads in Southeast Asia from 500 BCE to the early second millennium CE: an assessment of the work of Peter Francis in light of recent research', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 16–29; S. A. Abraham, 'Glass beads and glass production in early South India: contextualizing Indo-Pacific bead manufacture', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 4–15; J. W. Lankton, L. Dussubieux & T. Rehren, 'A Study of Mid-first Millennium CE Southeast Asian Specialized Glass Beadmaking Traditions', in E. Bacus, I. Glover & P. Sharrock (eds.), Interpreting Southeast Asia’s Past: Monument, Image and Text (Singapore, 2008), pp. 335–56; K-W. Wang, Cultural and Socio-Economic Interaction Reflected by Glass Beads in Early Iron Age Taiwan (University of Sheffield PhD Thesis, 2016); J. Then-Obluska, 'Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt: preliminary assessment (seasons 2009–2012)', Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24 (2015), 735–77; M. Wood, 'Glass beads from pre-European contact sub-Saharan Africa: Peter Francis's work revisited and updated', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 65–80; M. Wood et al, 'Zanzibar and Indian Ocean trade in the first millennium CE: the glass bead evidence', Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 9 (2017), 879–901; V. Leitch et al, 'Early Saharan trade: the inorganic evidence', in D. J. Mattingly et al (eds.), Trade in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond (Cambridge, 2017), pp. 287–340; A. K. Carter, S. A. Abraham & G. O. Kelly (eds.), Asia's Maritime Bead Trade, special issue of Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), pp. 1–104; P. Frances, Asia's Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present (Honolulu, 2002); A. K. Carter, 'Beads, exchange networks and emerging complexity: a case study from Cambodia and Thailand (500 BCE–CE 500)', Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 25 (2015), 733–57;A. Jiayao, 'Glass beads found at the Yongningsi Temple', Journal of Glass Studies, 42 (2000), 81–4; J. W. Lankton, I-S. Lee & J. D. Allen, 'Javanese (Jatim) beads in late fifth to early sixth-century Korean (Silla) tombs', in Annales du 16e Congrès de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre (Nottingham, 2005), pp. 327–30; T. Power, The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500–1000 (Oxford, 2012), pp. 38, 41, 45; S. Lee & D. P. Leidy, Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom (New York, 2013), pp. 115–9; I. Nakai & J. Shirataki, 'Chemical Composition of Glass Beads Excavated from Kofun (ca. AD 2nd to 7th c.) in Western Japan by Portable XRF Showing Glass Trade among Asian Countries', in F. Gan et al (eds.), Recent Advances In The Scientific Research On Ancient Glass And Glaze (Hackensack, 2016), pp. 73–94; and K. Oga & T. Tomomi, 'Ancient Japan and the Indian Ocean interaction sphere: chemical compositions, chronologies and trade routes of imported glass beads in the Yayoi-Kofun periods (3rd century BCE – 7th century CE', Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology, 9 (2013), 35–65. Unfortunately, no cemeteries in England were examined as part of Pion & Gratuze's research into early medieval European Indo-European beads; however, it seems more than credible that these beads were also imported to early Anglo-Saxon England too given both that other exotic imports of the period are indeed found on both sides of the English Channel and that some of the beads recorded from fifth- to sixth-century graves in eastern England appear to be similar to Pion & Gratuze's continental examples. Consequently, one such English site that contains potential Indo-Pacific beads is plotted here to reflect this; my thanks are due to Dr Sue Brunning, the curator of the European Early Medieval Collections at the British Museum, and to Dr Rose Broadley, archaeological glass specialist and Kent Historic Environment Record officer, for sharing photographs and thoughts on some of these beads from early Anglo-Saxon Kent.
2.     A. Jiayao, 'Glass beads found at the Yongningsi Temple', Journal of Glass Studies, 42 (2000), 81–4.
3.     For Korea and Japan, see S. Lee & D. P. Leidy, Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom (New York, 2013), pp. 115–9; I. Nakai & J. Shirataki, 'Chemical Composition of Glass Beads Excavated from Kofun (ca. AD 2nd to 7th c.) in Western Japan by Portable XRF Showing Glass Trade among Asian Countries', in F. Gan et al (eds.), Recent Advances In The Scientific Research On Ancient Glass And Glaze (Hackensack, 2016), pp. 73–94; and K. Oga & T. Tomomi, 'Ancient Japan and the Indian Ocean interaction sphere: chemical compositions, chronologies and trade routes of iimported glass beads in the Yayoi-Kofun periods (3rd century BCE – 7th century CE', Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology, 9 (2013), 35–65. On Berenike, Egypt, see for example T. Power, The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500–1000 (Oxford, 2012), pp. 38, 41, 45; J. Then-Obluska, 'Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt: preliminary assessment (seasons 2009–2012)', Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24 (2015), 735–77; J. W. Lankton, I-S. Lee & J. D. Allen, 'Javanese (Jatim) beads in late fifth to early sixth-century Korean (Silla) tombs', in Annales du 16e Congrès de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre (Nottingham, 2005), pp. 327–30. On Indo-Pacific beads from the earliest layers at the Unguja Ukuu site, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, see for example M. Wood, 'Glass beads from pre-European contact sub-Saharan Africa: Peter Francis's work revisited and updated', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 65–80; M. Wood et al, 'Zanzibar and Indian Ocean trade in the first millennium CE: the glass bead evidence', Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 9 (2017), 879–901, and M. Wood, 'Glass beads from pre-European contact sub-Saharan Africa: Peter Francis's work revisited and updated', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 65–80. For the Garamantian kingdom, see V. Leitch et al, 'Early Saharan trade: the inorganic evidence', in D. J. Mattingly et al (eds.), Trade in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond (Cambridge, 2017), pp. 287–340.
4.     C. Pion & B. Gratuze, 'Indo-Pacific glass beads from the Indian subcontinent in Early Merovingian graves (5th–6th century AD)', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 51–64.
5.     For the origins of the garnets in use in Europe from the fifth to seventh centuries AD, see T. Calligaro et al, 'Contribution à l'étude des grenats mérovingiens (Basilique de Saint-Denis et autres collections du musée d'Archéologie nationale, diverses collections publiques et objets de fouilles récentes): nouvelles analyses gemmologiques et géochimiques effectuées au Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France', Antiquités Nationales, 38 (2006–07), 111–44; for a distribution map and discussion of garnet finds from Britain, see H. Hamerow, 'The circulation of garnets in the North Sea Zone, AD 400–700', in A. Hilgner, S. Greiff & D. Quast (eds.), Gemstones in the First Millennium AD (Mainz, 2017), pp. 71–86; for the date of the Sutton Hoo shoulder clasps, see N. Adams, 'Rethinking the Sutton Hoo shoulder clasps and armour', in C. Entwistle & N. Adams (eds.), Intelligible Beauty: Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery (London, 2010), pp. 83–112.
6.     For the continent, see J. Drauschke, '"Byzantine" and "oriental" imports in the Merovingian Empire from the second half of the fifth to the beginning of the eighth century', in A. Harris (ed.), Incipient Globalisation? Long-Distance Contacts in the Sixth Century (Oxford, 2007), pp. 53–73 at p. 67, and J. Drauschke, 'Byzantine Jewellery? Amethyst beads in East and West during the early Byzantine period', in C. Entwistle & N. Adams (eds.), 'Intelligible Beauty': Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery (London, 2010), pp. 50–60. For Britain, see J. W. Huggett, 'Imported grave goods and the early Anglo-Saxon economy', Medieval Archaeology, 32 (1988), pp. 63–96, and H. Geake, The Use of Grave-Goods in Conversion-Period England, c.600–c.850 (Oxford, 1997), for the distributions of cowries and ivory rings; recent work on finds from Rutland and Kent confirm that the ivory in use in this era was indeed elephant ivory, e.g. seven of the nine ivory rings examined from Empingham Anglo-Saxon cemetery, Rutland, could be confirmed to be elephant ivory cut from the base of a tusk: G. Edwards & J. Watson, Ancient Monuments Laboratory Report 31/91: Mineral Preserved Organic Material from Empingham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Rutland (London, 1991), p. 2.
7.     D. W. Rollason, Early Medieval Europe 300-1050: The Birth of Western Society (London, 2012), p. 160; I. Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms 450–751 (London, 1994), pp. 215–16.
8.     J. W. Lankton, L. Dussubieux & T. Rehren, 'A study of mid-first millennium CE Southeast Asian specialized glass beadmaking traditions', in E. Bacus, I. Glover & P. Sharrock (eds.), Interpreting Southeast Asia’s Past: Monument, Image and Text (Singapore, 2008), pp. 335–56; J. W. Lankton, I-S. Lee & J. D. Allen, 'Javanese (Jatim) beads in late fifth to early sixth-century Korean (Silla) tombs', in Annales du 16e Congrès de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre (Nottingham, 2005), pp. 327–30; T. Power, The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500–1000 (Oxford, 2012), pp. 39–40; J. Then-Obluska, 'Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt: preliminary assessment (seasons 2009–2012)', Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24 (2015), 735–77 at p. 751.

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