A few years ago archaeologists found a cache of about 5000 glass beads from a small pit in an Iron Age layer at Sibudu Cave near Tongaat. The bead strings incorporated brownish-red, blue-green, blue and other colours of glass beads, some copper beads and also two perforated Conus ebraeus shells. There was also a necklace of ostrich-eggshell disc-beads interspersed with blue glass beads. Sixteen of the glass beads were chemically analysed at the Field Museum, Chicago.
The results show that the beads originated in India. The glass beads date to the 1500s or 1600s, and probably reached southern Africa via Portuguese traders visiting Delagoa Bay. It’s possibly that the owner hid the necklaces in the cave, but was unable to collect them later
Gavin Whitelaw will be talking about these glass beads on the 25 May 2011 at 1pm, the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, as part of the Museum Week celebrations.