Last Updated: Jul 21, 2023     Views: 240

Image: Akoso bead. Western Africa. 1800-1899. CMoG 71.3.44.

Glass beads are a critical part of glass history, particularly in the colonial period, that often don't receive the same attention as other glass forms. A good place to start exploring bead history is Beads: Journal of the Society of Bead Researchers (, which offers a subject index for the 1989-2018 volumes (

Below are some resources that may help to illuminate a more nuanced global history of glassmaking and glass trade. Book titles are linked to WorldCat records so you can locate titles in a library near you. When possible, open repository links have been added.

West Africa

We recommend that you check out the work of Dr. Abidemi Babatune Babalola, including the following:

Below are some additional works on the history of glass beads in West Africa:

  • Gott, Suzanne. “Ghana's Glass Beadmaking. Arts in Transcultural Dialogues.” African Arts 47, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 10-29.
  • McIntosh, Susan Keech, Marilee Wood, Laure Dussubieux, Peter Robertshaw, Timothy Insoll, and Mamadou Cissé. “Glass Beads from Medieval Gao (Mali): New Analytical Data on Chronology, Sources, and Trade.” Journal of African Archaeology 18, no. 2 (2020): 139-161.
  • Truffa Giachet, Miriam, Bernard Gratuze, Anne Mayor, and Eric Huysecom. "Compositional and Provenance Study of Glass Beads from Archaeological Sites in Mali and Senegal at the Time of the First Sahelian States." Plos one 15, no. 12 (2020): e0242027.
  • Truffa Giachet, Miriam, Bernard Gratuze, Sylvain Ozainne, Anne Mayor, and Eric Huysecom. "A Phoenician Glass Eye Bead from 7th–5th c. cal BCE Nin-Bèrè 3, Mali: Compositional Characterisation by LA–ICP–MS." Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 24 (2019): 748-58.

Indian Ocean Trade: East Africa, India, and Southeast Asia

In this section, we would draw your attention to the June 2016 special issue of Archaeological Research in Asia: Asia’s Maritime Bead Trade (, which provides an update to Asia’s Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present by Peter Francis (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002) and suggests directions for future research.

Other resources to help you understand the history of glass bead production and trade include:

  • Abraham, Shinu Anna. "In Search of Craft and Society: The Glass Beads of Early Historic Tamil South India." In Connections and Complexity: New Approaches to the Archaeology of South Asia, 239-261. Left Coast Press Walnut Creek, CA, 2013.
  • Daggett, Adrianne, Marilee Wood, and Laure Dussubieux. "Learning from Glass Trade Beads at Thabadimasego, Botswana." In African Archaeology Without Frontiers: Papers from the 2014 PanAfrican Archaeological Association Congress, edited by Sadr Karim, Esterhusyen Amanda, and Sievers Chrissie, 127-42. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2016.
  • Dussubieux, Laure, C.M. Kusimba, V. Gogte, S. B. Kusimba, Bernard Gratuze, and R. Oka. “The Trading of Ancient Glass Beads: New Analytical Data from South Asian and East African Soda-Alumina Glass Beads.” Archaeometry 50, no. 5 (Oct 2008): 797-821.
  • Kanungo, Alok Kumar. Mapping the Indo-Pacific Beads Vis-à-Vis Papanaidupet. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2016. Review: Babalola, Abidemi Babatunde. “Review of Mapping the Indo-Pacific Beads vis-à-vis Papanaidupet, by Alok Kumar Kanungo.” Asian Perspectives 57, no. 1 (2018): 190-192.
  • Koleini, Farahnaz, Philippe Colomban, Innocent Pikirayi, and Linda C. Prinsloo. "Glass Beads, Markers of Ancient Trade in Sub-Saharan Africa: Methodology, State of the Art and Perspectives." Heritage 2, no. 3 (2019): 2343-2369.
  • Koleini, Farahnaz, Linda C. Prinsloo, Wim Biemond, Philippe Colomban, Anh-Tu Ngo, Jan CA Boeyens, Maria M. Van der Ryst, and Koos Van Brakel. "Unravelling the Glass Trade Bead Sequence from Magoro Hill, South Africa: Separating Pre-Seventeenth-Century Asian Imports from Later European Counterparts." Heritage Science 4, no. 1 (2016): 43.
  • Marshall, Lydia Wilson. “Typological and Interpretive Analysis of a 19th-Century Bead Cache in Coastal Kenya.” Journal of African Archaeology 10, no. 2 (2012): 189-205.
  • Oteyo, Gilbert, and Chapurukha M. Kusimba. "The Consumption of Glass Beads in Ancient Swahili East Africa." In China and East Africa: Ancient Ties, Contemporary Flows, 147-164. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019.
  • Wood, Marilee, Serena Panighello, Emilio F. Orsega, Peter Robertshaw, Johannes T. van Elteren, Alison Crowther, Mark Horton, and Nicole Boivin Wood. “Zanzibar and Indian Ocean Trade in the First Millennium CE: The Glass Bead Evidence.” Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 9 (2017): 879–901.

Additional resources that are not exclusively focused on glass beads include:

  • Dallapiccola, Anna. Reverse Glass Painting in India. New Delhi, India: Nyogi Books, 2017.
  • Kanungo, Alok K., and Robert H. Brill. “Kopia, India’s First Glassmaking Site: Dating and Chemical Analysis.” Journal of Glass Studies 51 (2009): 11–25.
  • Lankton, James W., and Laure Dussubieux. “Early Glass in Asian Maritime Trade: A Review and an Interpretation of Compositional Analyses.” Journal of Glass Studies 48 (2006): 121–44.
  • Srinivasan, Anjali. “Glass Art in India: Lost and Living Traditions.” The Glass Art Society Journal (2005): 58-60.

China, Korea, and Japan

Image: Pair of Enamel Painted Bird and Flower Vases. Imperial Workshops (China). 1736-1795. CMoG 53.6.1.


Indigenous Americas

There is no indigenous tradition of man-made glass in the Americas prior to the Colonial period beginning in the 1500s. However, obsidian (natural glass) was an important economic and symbolic material. Below are some resources that explore the importance of obsidian:

American Indian

We would also refer you to the North American Trade Bead Bibliographies made available on the site of the Society of Bead Researchers:






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