In this website, beadwork analysis is described as the technological study of any beaded fabric. With unraveling this ancient technology, we hope to understand more about the people who beaded these objects, the technological difficulties they ran in to, and the pace of their work. Beadwork analysis will give insight into an ancient culture. It may, for instance, tell about the technological standards of that time. For the people who made these objects were able to produce beads and thread thin enough to pass through the tiny bead perforations. They were also able to thread these beads into intricate patterns. And sometimes, if you get lucky, even the hand of an individual beader may be recognized.
Beadwork may also give information on the social stratification of a culture. This can be illustrated by the presence or absence of beads or beadwork in burials, and by the complexity of the techniques used. Using an object made of breakable glass beads and fragile beadwork that frequently needed repairs, may shows the owners status or wealth. The beaded sandals of pharaoh Tutankhamun are an extreme example of this. Walking on these fragile objects must have meant frequent repairs.
The definition used here for beadwork is as follows: 'an artefact or part of an artefact made of beads, deliberately clustered together in a specific order by a binding material.' This definition takes into account beadwork constructed with thread of various material (fiber, metal), but it also incorporates beads clustered together pressed into clay or held together by other binding materials.
The definition also combines the most important aspects of any beaded fabric: the beads (shape, dimensions & typology), the binding (material and technique) and the pattern (the specific order of the beads). In beadwork analysis the researcher will examine and describe at least these aspects and will, when possible, try and preserve the artefact for the future. Description includes the typology and - as can be seen on the left - the description of the color with the use of a Munsell Bead Color Book (see here for the Munsell website). In the pages that follow from the pull down menu, we will look closer at the different aspects of beadwork analysis.