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Ancient Etched Carnelian Beads of Various Patterns with Gold




Carnelian, 20k gold


The necklace is 20 5/8 inches (52.4 cm) in length. The necklace weighs 22.2 gm.







A necklace of sixty-six etched carnelian beads alternating with sixty-five granulated ring beads. The beads graduate in size. A pair of gold beading tips and a hook and eye clasp complete the necklace. The gold is 20k. The etching of agate and carnelian beads is accomplished by painting onto the surface of the bead as alkali (potash, white lead, and washing soda have all been reportedly used), and then subsequently firing the bead. This permanently whitens the area of the bead covered with the alkali. The whitening is not merely a glazing of the surface. The surface is often unaffected by this process; the whitening actually occurs beneath the surface and extends downward into the stone. The whitened areas may be raised on some specimen; in a few cases, the designs are sunken into the stone, the solution having acted like a flux as it was absorbed into the surface and melted the structure of the agate or carnelian. Etched beads have been manufactured since very early times. Beck attributed the specimens known to him to three main periods: Early (before 2000 BC), Middle (300 BC to 200 AD), and Late (600 to 1000 AD). Francis has expanded and revised this dating as follows: Early (2700 BC to 1800 BC), Middle (550 BC to 200 AD), and Late (224 to 642 AD). Etched beads from the earliest period have been found mainly at Mesopotamian and Indus civilization sites. The centers of their manufacture discovered so far are the Indus civilization sites of Lothal and Chanhu Daro. Middle period etched beads were found mainly at Indian subcontinent sites. Francis makes a strong case that the centers of manufacture of Late period etched beads was Iran and dates them to Sassanian times (224 to 642 AD). Most of the beads in this necklace appear to be from the Middle period, but there are a few that are Early. Three beads are unusual: The center bead, a tapered barrel shape, has five white lines that are at the bottom of five grooves that have been shaped around the outside, down the length of the bead. These troughs have been rounded so that the bead appears to swell around the constrictions of the white lines. Two other beads have black lines instead of white and a whitened background. Beck devised a classification system calling white lines on a natural background “Type I” and those that are first whitened and then have black lines put on them “Type II.” Exposure to alkaline soil over a period of time will also whiten the surface, and it seems that this process, essentially the same chemistry as artificially whitening, will also turn the white line dark. (It is now an open question whether or not these “Type II” beads were deliberately and intentionally produced or if they are merely the result of accidental processes).