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Faceted Carnelian Bead from Caesarea Maritima


Hi, all.  Here is a carnelian bead from the dunes near Caesarea Maritima.  I don't have much knowledge of beads so any advice or corrections to the description or date would be welcomed.  I am guessing that this dates to the middle Islamic period, around 9th-11th Century CE, but I have not yet come across any references specific to this time period.  I did find an interesting article on drills and drilling from BEADS, the Journal of the Society of Bead Researchers, available here:   Thanks, V-drome

Faceted Red/Orange Carnelian Bead
9th -11th Century CE?
Islamic or Medieval?
Translucent red/orange carnelian bead with 24 facets in three horizontal
rows forming a slightly flattened, faceted octagonal sphere, and beautifully
cut and polished.  Drilled with a rod drill(?) from both top and bottom to meet
in the middle.  Surface find from the sand dunes near Caesarea Maritima, 1971.
Maximum diameter 8.0mm. Ht: 5.5mm. Wt: 0.51gr.
(Click for larger pic)

Carnelian was used for beads from the Bronze Age until modern times so I would assume that the shape is the only real diagnostic.

Unfortunately I know of no good comprehensive source for beads.


I agree with Otlichnik that the shape of the carnelian bead is perhaps the only real diagnostic which is why I also agree with your middle Islamic 9th-12th century CE period dating. Islamic art mostly avoids figurative images to avoid becoming objects of worship. This aniconism in Islamic culture caused artists to explore non-figural art, and created a general aesthetic shift toward mathematically-based decoration.

This octagonal-shaped carnelian bead looks strikingly similar to one excavated with other carnelian beads in Iran, Nishapur, 1948, and on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They’ve also been dated to the 9th-12th century CE. The beads may have formed a strand of prayer beads, which in Islamic practice have either thirty-three or ninety-nine beads to facilitate the recitation of the ninety-nine names of God.

Thank you Otlichnik and Serendipity for the reference.  I have here another one that is almost identical in shape to two of the beads on the strand at the Met. Museum shown in your link.  I am not sure exactly how to describe the shape of this one, so any corrections would be appreciated.

Faceted Red/Orange Carnelian Bead
9th -11th Century CE?
Islamic or Medieval?
Semi-transparent faceted red/orange carnelian bead with
slightly convex faces forming an approximate rhomboidal
or rhombic hexahedron (parallelepiped?).  Beautifully cut
and polished.  Drilled from both ends with a rod drill(?)
to meet in an offset at approximately 2/3rds of the length,
internally.  Surface find from the sand dunes near Caesarea
Maritima, 1972.
Lgth: 12.0mm. Wdth: 8.0mm. Thk: 4.5mm  Wt: 0.66gm.
(click for larger pics)

I also have a couple of round carnelian beads that I will try to post, but I expect these will be difficult to date with any certainty, since the shape is so common.  Thanks, again, Jimi

I’m just as interested in the round carnelian beads as the octagonal and rombhoidal beads because I think they belong to the same Islamic prayer bead ensemble and can also be dated approximately to the 9th-12th century CE. The example at the Met has a preponderance of spherical beads.

These geometric beads are an important reminder of how the early Islamic philosophers had learned about geometry by looking at the works of the Greek philosophers and mathematicians, Euclid and Pythagoras. You can see many geometric shapes such as the circle, square, rectangle and rhombus in the prayer bead ensemble at the Met.


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