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VIRTUAL - What a history of beads can tell us about times of crises and change: An archaeological perspective from east and southern Africa

March 18, 2021 @ 6:30 pm EDT Pacific Time

This is an online event.

AIA Society: Spokane

Lecturer: Carla Klehm

Beads have served in cultural, cognitive, and communicative systems of language, art, and symbolism throughout human history. Beads made of marine shells, ostrich eggshells and stones appear consistently in Africa’s archaeological record from the Middle Stone Age on, and have long been linked with indexing identity. Yet, their role in social changes is rarely explored. This presentation will explore a (long) material history of beads in two contexts: first, in northwest Kenya, where the first pastoralists buried their ancestors with brilliantly-colored stone beads underneath megalithic monuments 5,000 years ago; and second at the edge of the Kalahari in Botswana, where 1,000 years ago and 1,000km inland societies used glass beads coming from India and the Middle East to index increasing inequality. Beads played a large role in these past African societies understood their lives at such key moments of transformation in the human experience: here, animal domestication and early monuments, and proto-global trade and social stratification. African perspectives on the relationship between people and objects such as beads leads us to consider new ways of understanding the history of significant social change—where, why, and how it happens—and the ways in which people find meaning in the world through objects.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Klehm, C. (2014) “Trade tales and tiny trails” The Appendix Journal of History. Digital publication. January 8, 2014.

Wilkie, L. (2014). Strung out on archaeology: an introduction to archaeological research. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Wilmsen, E. (2017) “Baubles, Bangles and Beads: Commodity Exchange between the Indian Ocean Region and Interior Southern Africa during 8th–15th Centuries CE”, Journal of Southern African Studies, 43:5, 913-926.

Wood, M. (2012) Interconnections: glass beads and trade in southern and eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean: 7th to 16th centuries AD. Uppsala, University of Uppsala.

To learn more about African prehistory and history, from evolution to the post-colonial era, I highly recommend John Reader’s Africa: A Biography of a Continent (1999, Vintage Books). Although it looks lengthy, it reads quickly and is engaging throughout, whether you are familiar or just becoming acquainted with Africa.

If passcode is needed, please contact Cindy Bell at

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March 18, 2021
6:30 pm EDT
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