Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Personal ornaments: changing identities in the Dutch Neolithic and Bronze Age

Numerous beads and pendants of amber, jet and bone have been found in Dutch Neolithic and Bronze Age context, both in settlements and in graves. Because ornaments are personal items, they are closely linked with people’s identity.

Annelou van Gijn
Centre for Arts and Archaeological Science


Reconstructing bead biographies

In a long-term research project, encompassing student projects, hundreds of beads from settlement and funerary context are subjected to a detailed technological and functional study. By means of experimentation, low- and high-power microscopy and micro CT scanning, production methods and sequences could be reconstructed. Microscopic analysis also revealed evidence for the method of fastening, the extent of wear and for repair or remodelling. 

Making beads yourself

In order to better understand the traces of manufacture seen on beads and pendants, experiments were carried out with shaping, grinding and perforating beads of amber and jet.

Cutting amber in order to make a blank for a bead.
Making tiny facets on a perforated amber bead, using a bow drill and a flint blade. The facets closely matched those seen on many of the small amber beads from the Late Neolithic settlements and graves. 
Some of the amber beads displayed very narrow, long and regular perforations. Here we attempt to replicate such a perforation by using a heated copper wire to melt the amber. The experiment was successful but micro CT scans showed the perforation to be unlike the archaeological ones.
The location of the heavily developed wear traces on these V-perforated buttons from a Late Neolithic burial excavated near Hattemerbroek (near the town of Zwolle, in the Netherlands) made it possible to reconstruct the most likely way these beads were fastened: sewn in sequence on a headband (the beads were found near the skull).



A freshly made amber bead with a perforation that is hardly worn. This bead was found in a child’s burial and suggests that the bead was made for the child to wear during its life and death.
This perforation of a bead from the late Neolithic settlement of Zeewijk in North-Holland is heavily worn, indicating a very long period of use. The large amount of production waste from amber bead production at this site and the half-finished beads, indicate that these items were made locally, made of amber that washed ashore on the beaches.

Related research

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