Page 46 - University of Pretoria RESEARCH REVIEW 2016
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HERITAGE and society
 Glass beads have been produced and traded for millennia all over the world, and have been used as everyday articles of adornment, ritual and ceremony.
Indo-Pacific beads are found in considerable quantities throughout Southeast Asia and southern China, Korea, Japan, the Persian Gulf, India, and Sri Lanka. In fact, there is probably not a region in Asia that does not have them. As such they are significant markers of ancient trading networks, often synonymous with the Silk Route, a network of trade routes established during the Han Dynasty in China.
Although originally not manufactured in southern Africa, the preservations of glass beads in the archaeological record is good and large hoards have been found at excavation sites. Their shapes, sizes and colour, as well as the variety of composition and production technologies, motivated efforts to use them as markers of exchange pathways, from southern Asia through the Indian Ocean, to Africa. They are also excellent chronological indicators, and sequences dating these beads have been created, and continue to be refined.
Professor Innocent Pikirayi, and colleagues Dr Farahnaz Koleini and Dr Xander Antonites in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, have focused on beads recovered in southern Africa, at Mutamba in northern South Africa, and at Baranda, in northern Zimbabwe. Their research has been in collaboration with Dr Philippe Colomban (Pierre and Marie Curie University, France) and Dr Linda Prinsloo (University of Wollongong, Australia).
In 2016, portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) and Raman spectroscopy analyses of a representative sample of glass beads found at the two excavations were completed. These sites are linked to the intensification of and changing patterns in international networks of trade connected with the rise and development of complex socioeconomic systems in the regions since 1000 AD. Glass beads were predominantly used in trade exchanges for metals, pottery and animal products such as ivory.
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The archaeological site of Mutamba.
Despite corrosion on the glass beads from Mutamba, compositional analyses of their trace elements, pigments, opacifiers, and colourants revealed a south and south-eastern Asian origin during the 13th and 14th century. Southern Africa would become an important part of the Silk Route, dominated in Asia by the Mongol Empire. The majority of the over 20 000 glass beads from Baranda, historically identified with the 16th–17th century trading market of Massapa, are of south Asian origin, which coincides with the Portuguese dominance of the Indian Ocean trade (1500–1650 AD).
The analyses will now be extended to other sites in the southern African region, and will also focus on imported ceramics such as porcelain and stoneware from Asia and Europe, in order more fully to understand trading networks associated with ancient and more recent trade routes.

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