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Beads - Earliest Art Forms that Symbolizes Creativity of Different Cultures

Beads objects from the National Ethnographic Collection, acquired from Filipino indigenous communities
File photos showing some objects from the National Ethnographic Collection, acquired from Filipino indigenous communities.


Beads are among several artifacts found in archaeological sites throughout the Philippine archipelago. They occur from about 4200 to 4600 years ago and persist through the modern era. The beads of the National Archaeological Collection, and National Ethnographic Collection of the #NationalMuseumPH encompasses a wide range of material that includes shell, clay, stone, and glass. 


Shell beads are thus far the earliest beads found in the Philippines. Based on archaeological evidence from the caves of Duyong and Ille on Palawan Island, Conus spp. shells were fashioned into perforated discs and utilized as earrings, necklaces, and armbands. 


Fired clay makes up another type of beads that are found in sites dated to about 4000 years ago in areas such as Cagayan, Batanes, Batangas and Palawan, while stone beads made of agate, carnelian and jade appear about 2200 years ago. Agate and carnelian beads originated from south India while most jade are sourced from Taiwan with some evidence of local production found in the Batanes Islands. Glass beads first appeared about 2200 to 2000 years ago in various sites in the Philippines, a drawn, monochromatic type often referred to as the Indo-Pacific type of glass beads. 


Beads have played an important role in history and trade, used as personal adornments, social status, burial offerings, and other functions as part of art, culture, and religion of a society. Most beads involved in Philippine ancient trade have Asian origins, proof of which are the number of beads found in the country’s archaeological land sites and shipwrecks. 


Among these are the Indo-Pacific beads from the Pandanan shipwreck (15th century CE) in Palawan Island, which were sourced from Sungai Mas Site in Malaysia. Chinese glass beads from the Kanduli Shoal shipwreck (16th century CE) near Palawan show similarities to the beads found inland sites in Bolinao, Pangasinan (14th–15th century CE); Calatagan, Batangas (14th–16th century CE); Santa Ana, Manila (12th–16th century CE); and Porac, Pampanga. Other types of beads such as carnelian, drawn glass beads, and coil beads were found in the Santa Cruz shipwreck (15th century CE).


In more recent times, indigenous groups use glass, stone, shells and plastic beads in various shapes, sizes, and colors as embellishments on their clothing and accessories like head cloths, belts, and upper and lower garments of both males and females. Strings of beads are worn as necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, while seed beads decorate hats, bags, lime containers, baskets, and scabbards. Beads are commonly sewn along the edges and seams or symmetrically arranged in geometric, anthropomorphic, and zoomorphic patterns, as well as in celestial forms. Worn during special occasions, beaded clothes and ornaments may also be inherited, demonstrating an intergenerational regard for beads in dress, adornment, social status, rituals and as prestige goods. 




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Credits:

Text by NMP Anthropology Social Media Cluster

Poster by NMP Museum Services Division

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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