5th Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Alice Choyke and Paul Duffy

From the 5th Experimental Archaeology Conference, Reading, 2011.

Time and enhanced value: the use life of bone beads

Alice Choyke(1) & Paul Duffy(2)

(1) Central European University and (2) University of Michigan

The length of time objects are used is an extremely difficult thing to measure on archaeological objects. Separating and assessing intensity of use, raw material and actual longevity of use presents serious problems. However, as has been pointed out in the literature, objects can become imbued with meaning and value that goes far beyond simple function and their straightforward economic importance in a particular cultural setting (Choyke 2006, 2009). Beads in particular have a fractal quality to them (Fowler 2004: 40–41). Necklaces or pieces of clothing decorated by beads have the potential to be broken up, added to and re-distributed.

In the Final Neolithic period in Hungary there is a particular kind of propeller-shaped bead given as grave-goods to women and girls as parts of hair ornaments, bracelets, girdles and necklaces that also included marble, spondylus and dentilium beads. Such ornaments may also have been worn in life but the different degrees of wear on the beads strongly suggest that these particular grave goods were prepared for the moment of the funeral and did not necessarily belong to the deceased during her lifetime. Many beads had been apparently used over long periods by (presumably) related people in the community. Thus, these beads served to connect female members of a particular part of this community and gained value through the passage of time.

An experiment is underway in which eight replicas of these propeller-shaped bone beads and several simple dog canine and round bone beads were strung onto a sinew thong. During the first year trial, we also experimented with different fibres from hemp, leather and sinew. Twisted sinew has proved by far the most durable. This necklace has now been continuously worn for over four years, dismantled only to measure what type and degree of wear has occurred on their surfaces compared to a single bead kept aside for comparison purposes. Although the authors intention is to keep using this necklace continuously for a few more years at least, the results show these beads are actually barely worn after more than four years of continuous wear.

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