Glass beads and Indian Ocean trade

Authored by: Marilee Wood

The Swahili World

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138913462
eBook ISBN: 9781315691459
Adobe ISBN:


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Glass was first produced c. 2500 bce in Mesopotamia. It is believed that the first objects made from this miraculous new material were beads. Glass is difficult to produce, requiring fairly precise combinations of ingredients and the ability to achieve and maintain high temperatures for extended periods. The technology was slow to spread, possibly because it was a guarded secret. By the first millennium ce, glass that could be related to the present study was being produced in the greater Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia and China. It was not being made in eastern or southern Africa, so we can assume the glass beads studied here provide evidence of foreign trade. However, because glass can be reworked at temperatures significantly lower than those required for its production, it is possible that a very few beads discussed here could have been locally made from imported glass.

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