Monday, May 2, 2011

Handmade Bead

Dear DSCQHR Excavation Diary,
Today, I found a handmade bead. It was a pretty good day.

Last Saturday, I got to be part of a really fun test pit group with fellow classmates Dani, Steve, and David P. (aka The Holy Shakers). Our pit was up by the East Boundary datum point. We had a great time leveling out our 50 cm pit together, sifting the contents through a 1/4" screen, and logging our finds.

Our first level went from 0 - 20 cmbg; we found interesting pieces of glazed ceramic (two different types, both red and white paste), molded glass, a couple of nails and some non-human bone fragments. We all kept switching tasks around, so everybody got a chance to dig, level, transfer the soil, shake the screen, and investigate the screen contents for goodies. We gossipped about other classes, commiserated about midterms, and got to hear more about the history of the site from David.

It was during a stint of screening soil lifted from the 20 - 30 cm level that I found the bead. I am prone to a certain amount of excitability in the mornings; before I really understood what was happening, I was bouncing around like an idiot, yelling "I FOUND A BEAD! I FOUND A BEAD!" And then lots of other people became excited too. That was a pretty fun moment up there on the hill.

After my initial flipout, I calmed down and assumed it would just turn out to be a plastic Barbie bead or something. Upon further inspection, a few folks both wiser and steadier than I dissuaded me of such maudlin thoughts: I was informed that it was a Glass Bead. Woo hoo!

(That's when I remembered that I left my camera AT HOME, the first time I've done so all quarter. Of course. Luckily for me, David pulled out his trusty iPhone, took some photos, and promised not to post them himself; he emailed them to me so I could do the honors. Thanks, David!)

After bagging the find, something else occurred to me: even though I felt very enthusiastic, I realized that I didn't actually have a clue as to the significance of finding the bead. I'd just picked up through earlier, overheard conversations that finding a bead was a Very Good Thing. Also, I was informed that it was fortuitous to find such a small bead when we were using a 1/4" screen; it could have very easily gone right through the mesh. Still, what was the big deal?

I went around and asked a few people, who told me that the Ohlone used to trade beads with colonists. Okay, that's a start! But, why was it up on the hill? Was it from an orphan? (Unlikely). Did it belong to one of the Native Americans who grazed their cattle in that field? Or was it maybe washed down the hill from the burned-down home that David told us about? Those questions are harder to answer, of course. The main point I took away from my enquiry was that finding a bead was Proof Of Ohlone Indians In The Area. Which we kind of already knew, but still... pretty sweet!

Once I got home, something else occurred to me. We were all calling it a "glass bead". But did the Ohlone have glass-making capabilities? A google search told me that the Ohlone mostly made shell beads. This was before David had sent me the photos, though, so I got all fussed that maybe it wasn't a bead from the Ohlone after all. However, upon closer inspection of the photos...

... what do you think? Could those swirly lines spiralling along the outside the bead be shell markings? 'Cause that would be pretty cool!

Later that morning, I also had the opportunity to relocate a very sweet and incredibly cozy millipede, who was curled up tight about 30 cmbg for a nice cool nap in the moist clay soil. But people were decidedly NOT as excited about that, unless you call flapping their hands and walking very quickly in the opposite direction "excited". Which, I guess, you know, you kind of totally could.


  1. Maria, that is probably the coolest find so far! Good thing we switched teams beforehand, I might not have been so lucky. Maybe we can show the bead to Andy Galvans or another expert who can identify it. It seems to be in great condition. I didn't see it in person but from the photos, especially the second one, it could be ceramic. The swirls are reminiscent of shell. If so, how did the Ohlone acquire shells? Trade or travels?

  2. Good stuff Maria *E-HighFive*

  3. Not only can this woman find beads like it's no one's business and appreciate the squirmier things in life, she can write gorgeous journal entries, too. Kudos to you, Maria. (OK, I'm biased -- an old friend.)

  4. I have never heard of them making beads. I would love to know. Norse people made beads very early on and the technology is very simple. I have seen it done in a sod bread oven.

  5. Excelente, Maria! Exciting find compared to boring old pieces of tile! I'll bring a book on California Archaeology for you to look at on Saturday: it covers the Bay Area pretty well and includes artifact illustrations. Shell beads are pretty common in this area, though I haven't seen one that large before. It is hard to diagnose anything about it without looking at it in person with a jewelers loop. I'll bring one of those on Saturday too.

  6. Hello Maria,

    I was there when you found it!! I am trying to remember what level was the bead discovered...I think it was at the 0-20 cm point level?

    Anyway it was just a lot of fun working together as a group finding what some people might call history`s garbage, but I think its a great find, also the millipede finding was amazing! I thought it was some ancient necklace from the it was a bug.

  7. Maria this post just reminds me what an awesome dig partner you make! The find was pretty cool, especially considering we were working in a 50cm x 50cm test pit, bigger than some but realistically a small area in which to find something so small, and to find it in the screen no less!
    Another illustration of what it means to be an archaeologist in training which is training your eyes to be able to identify these small oddities in a mound of dirt!
    Although on the "friend" that we found, I will most assuredly leave the retrieval and relocation to you :)


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