Archaeology Lunchtime Talk
From Bede to bead: The composition and origins of Early Anglo-Saxon glass beads in Britain
With James Peake, PhD student, Cardiff University Department of Archaeology.
Recent excavations of the early Anglo-Saxon (5th-7th centuries AD) cemetery complex at RAF Lakenheath (Eriswell) in Suffolk have revealed a large number of glass beads.
Chemical analysis has revealed a number of distinct groups of glass produced in the ‘Roman’ glassmaking tradition, likely to have their origins in the Near East. Here, during the contemporary Early Byzantine period, large quantities of glass were mass-produced from raw materials by glassmaking institutions situated along the Levantine coast.
The results at present suggest many of the bead types were produced locally, using a supply of scrap glass produced during the preceding Roman period. However, a large number of bead types also appear to have been produced using a fresh supply of material imported from the Near East.
At some point during the 6th century AD, the supply of glass appears to have become limited, as small quantities of plant ash seem to have been deliberately added, probably to extend it. This ‘watering down’ of glass is likely the result of a breakdown in the supply of fresh glass from the East. By the 7th century, the deposition of beads with the dead gradually declined, following the conversion of Britain to Christianity.