Venetian beads and Indian glass : what the beads found in Southeast Africa told about

(ORDO NEWS) — In mountain caves in Malawi, scientists have found tiny glass beads whose composition is irrefutable evidence that the ancient inhabitants of these places first traded with merchants from South Asia, and later with Europeans.

The oldest beads are at least half a millennium old, the youngest are about two hundred years old.

When scientists first came to the mountain caves in northern Malawi , more than six hundred kilometers from the sea coast, they hoped to find Stone Age artifacts there.

However, while sifting the earth in the caves with fine sieves, the researchers found tiny glass beads that looked like bright spots.

In total, scientists found 29 beads, most of which did not exceed five millimeters in diameter. Using laser ablation, they were able to analyze the composition of the beads and establish their origin, revealing the history of trade routes in Southeast Africa.

It turned out that all the beads, except for one, were made in Europe in the 19th century: they found arsenic in their composition, which Europeans used to make glass opaque.

The authors of the study suggest that the beads were made in Venice, at that time the center of European beading, and British missionaries used colored beads when establishing contacts with the local population.

The only bead of non-European origin turned out to be much older. Its composition is consistent with beads made from the 15th to the 17th century at Chaul , an ancient city on the coast of India, today in ruins.

At one of the sites, cowrie shells were found , which were mined in the Indian Ocean and were used as decoration and money.

Radiocarbon dating showed that the shells are from 1341 to 1150 years old, so there is no doubt that the glass beads came to an African cave along long-established trade routes, which were first used by South Asian merchants, and later by European missionaries.

Thus, the new find not only reveals the details of the relations of the inhabitants of inner Africa with their neighbors, but also significantly deepens the history of their trade relations, which were previously known mainly from European texts.

As the beads showed, the inhabitants of the Malawian caves were not savages sitting in isolation before the arrival of the missionaries – there were well-established trade routes between their settlements and distant cities in India, which people used for many centuries.


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