The range of styles and types of beads showcased on this page is a testament to the mastery and advanced techniques employed by Burmese bead artisans. Over the past five years, browsing through various bead websites, I've observed a peculiar trend: all beads from Burma have been relabeled as 'Pyu/Tircul' beads. This is, in fact, an oversimplification.

Without a doubt, the Pyu/Tircul culture played a significant role in bead making in Burma, yet bead crafting also flourished in various other regions and periods within Burma. Referring to all Burmese beads as Pyu/Tircul beads disregards the fact that a substantial exchange of beads transpired between India and Burma, driven by trade and shared Buddhist cultural ties.

It's plausible that this oversimplification has occurred to make it easier to market and sell Burmese beads to a burgeoning middle-class audience, primarily in the East, who may not be as invested in the deeper, more complex historical and cultural nuances.

Featured above is a bead discovered among many in a ruin in rural Punjab, India, near the Pakistani border. These beads, likely burial beads or at least never used, display slight discoloration from the surrounding earth. How they ended up in this remote location far from Burma remains a captivating bead-mystery.

In Memory of my Friend, Professor Bhandari
These unique beads were found by my dear friend, Professor Bhandari, during his lifelong quest for ancient coins throughout India. Now no longer with us, Mr. Bhandari was an ardent collector of ancient coins. His expeditions frequently led him to beads as well, often retrieved by young boys living near archaeological sites who earned some extra money from visiting collectors like Professor Bhandari.

Professor Bhandari's coin hunting season invariably commenced after the monsoon season, when the rain had eroded the soil, facilitating fresh discoveries. It was the Professor's modest collection of beads, which he kindly gifted to me, that kindled my passion for bead collecting.

The beads in
my collection
are now for sale

through bead ID
for price


These ball beads below were sourced from the Bagan area.
They are high-quality antique production beads from the early 20th century.


Brm 2  -  Largest ball bead: 15 mm

Pumtek beads, also known as buried thunderbolt beads, hold significant cultural importance among the Chin people living in the Chin Hills of western Burma/Myanmar and the adjacent area of eastern India, where they are referred to as Kuki. The original Pumtek beads were crafted over a millennium ago by the Pyu, the founders of the earliest city-states in Burma. Intriguingly, the art of Pumtek bead making managed to survive in the mountainous regions, far removed from the fertile rice plains of Bagan during its zenith.

Ancient Pumtek beads are often quite small, typically crafted from the opalized wood of the Borassus flabellifer palm. These specific types of beads will fluoresce when exposed to a short-wave UV lamp.

However, not all Pumtek beads are made from opalized palm wood. Many are created from different types of petrified wood, often in the form of chalcedony, and despite this variation, they can still be quite ancient. Petrified wood, derived from a wide variety of trees, can be found all over Burma. It's only natural that ancient bead makers, as well as their contemporary counterparts, have opted for this striking material. As demonstrated in the above photo, the original form and structure of the wood are preserved in the form of a woody grain.

There are a lot of different varieties
of petrified wood in Burma. (Museum in Mandalay)
Many Burmese beads are made of petrified wood.



Brm 3  -  Small Chin Pumtek ball beads - 5,5 mm

The petite Pumtek beads featured here originate from the Chin State, crafted with remarkable precision and intricate detail. The individual who provided me with these artifacts specified that these are not original Pyu beads. Instead, they are Chin replicas, estimated to have been crafted approximately 500 years ago.

According to this source, the tradition of crafting these original Pumtek beads from the Pyu city-states has been perpetuated within the Chin community for the past millennium. The sustained production of these beads over such a vast span of time illustrates the enduring cultural significance and revered craftsmanship these pieces represent.

Even as "copies", these Chin-made beads embody the fusion of rich heritage, timeless aesthetics, and the masterful technique of beadwork. These beads, although not directly from the Pyu period, are steeped in the same tradition and craftsmanship, and continue to be tangible ties to a rich and complex history.

Elongated small Pyu beads


Brm  4
  -  Largest 24 * 6 mm

Small rectangular Chin-Pumtek beads

Brm 5  - 12 * 10 * 5 mm - average size

Wonderful ancient beads from Burma

Brm 6  -  47 * 9,5 mm - Click on picture for larger image


Pyu repair-bead
This ancient Pyu bead has been 'repaired' by cutting off the ends of the bead. The repair itself seems to be quite old.

Brm 10  -  15 * 14 * 5 mm - SOLD

Large, rare & wonderful ceramic Pyu bow Bead


Brm 11  -  91 * 17 * 5,5 mm
Click on picture for larger image



   20 * 20 * 5 mm                        30 * 30 * 5 mm                   17 * 17 * 3 mm
Square ceramic beads with the typical Buddhist cruciform pattern.
Brm  12                                              Brm 13                                     Brm 14

Ancient Tibetan DZI?
The bead, steeped in intrigue and mystique, is purported to be an extremely ancient form of Tibetan DZI bead. When I presented it to a Tibetan expert dealer specializing in DZI beads in Kathmandu, he believed ibelowt to be a powerful talisman with the ability to prevent stroke and brain hemorrhage. The bead's striking feature is its multitude of 'eyes', a typical characteristic of DZI beads believed to provide protection and auspiciousness to its owner.

However, its age and authenticity have sparked some debate. Several other experts I have consulted have cast doubts about the bead's antiquity. Thus, while it carries a certain appeal and folklore attached to it, definitive conclusions about its age and origin remain elusive.


Brm 15  -  61 * 12 mm
Click on picture for larger image


You can see my wonderful small collection of zoomorphic beads from Burma by clicking here.



Brm 22  -  Largest  bead 57 * 8,5 mm

You can see more infomation plus detailed scans of these wonderful beads here in the Carnelian bead section.
Elongated carnelian beads   


Brm 23  -  Upper: 49 * 6 mm


Elongated jade beads

 Brm 24

Bow beads - carnelian and agate

Brm 25  -  Click on picture for larger image

In this section, I showcase a selection from my collection of Burmese etched beads, each bearing unique and distinct characteristics. Notably, the collection features a splendid large Jasper bead adorned with white stripes arranged in 3, 5, and 3 formations. These white stripes lend an intriguing visual depth to the bead, seemingly not just etched, but carefully carved into its red Jasper surface. This exquisite piece offers a stunning testament to the artistry and attention to detail that have been characteristic of Burmese bead craftsmanship over centuries. Despite only featuring a few from my collection here, each piece encapsulates the rich cultural and historical heritage of bead-making in Burma.

Etched 12 striped carnelian bead with earth-oil patina

EBB  75  -   63 * 10,5 mm - Click on picture for larger image

Military Beads?
Displayed here is an ancient carnelian Pyu bead, its distinctive coloration a result of exposure to oil, gas, and pressure. It's intriguing to note that such beads are often identified as 'military beads' on the internet, a label that seems rather incongruous considering the Pyu culture's Buddhist pacifistic leanings.
Stripes on beads, particularly evident on carnelian ones, are a common feature across Greater India. Rather than bearing a military connotation, these stripes likely originated as imitations of natural banded agate stripes, intended to convey animistic magical properties within an animist context. However, it should be noted that this specific bead, with its unique characteristics, is more typical of Burma than of India.

Long & shorter Truncated Convex Bicone beads


Matehtilay, Maline, Burma

These exceptionally beautiful Sulemani beads
look like new beads. I have not seen such colors, in a play of black translucent stone and banding as one can observe in these beads. They are all hand-polished and oil cooked. The shine of the many of the beads still have oily reflection colors.
 A close examination of the holes and the surface of the beads shows that they have not been used. However, they are ancient, displaying the most wonderful excavation patina with a lovely soft sheen. They have been stored away as precious jewels in a long forgotten and destroyed burial site or they have been put in a
Buddhist relic casket from and old Stupa.

You can read
more about excavation beads here. I marvel at this ancient skill of letting the artful patterns emerge out of the raw stone.

These beads are most probably a product of Burma's own craftsmen.

30 * 10 mm Origin: Burma

I have singled this bead out of the lot because of its exceptional beauty.



n this assortment of Buddhist Burmese beads, we find a broad spectrum of patterns and colors. From black onyx adorned with white stripes to more traditional translucent agate beads with swirling motifs in various hues, the diversity is truly remarkable. You can compare the black onyx bead SM 142 with SM 156, for instance.

The uniqueness of these beads is underscored by the fact that similar examples can only be found on a site featuring beads from Bangladesh.

Ancient beads from Mahastan, Bangladesh.
Note the apparent similarity to
bead no. 4 in the first row

Please note that the images above most accurately depict the beads' colors in natural daylight. In the series of images below, I've endeavored to showcase the beads' translucent nature through the use of a secondary light source.


Brm - SM  142 (2) - 30 * 10 mm
 Click on pictures for larger image


Brm - SM 143  - 29 * 9,5 mm


Brm - SM 144  - 30 * 9,5 mm - SOLD TO HERVE


Brm - SM 145  - 28 * 9,5 mm - SOLD TO HERVE


Brm - SM 146  -


Brm - SM  147 - 29 * 9 mm


Brm - SM  148 - 29 * 9,5 mm


Brm - SM 149  - 28 * 9 mm


Brm - SM 150  - 30 * 9,5 mm


Brm - SM 151  - 29 * 9 mm


Brm - SM 152  - 29 * 9 mm


Brm - SM 153  - 29,5 * 9,5 mm


Brm - SM 154  - 29 * 10 mm


Brm - SM 155  - 29,5 * 10 mm - SOLD TO HERVE


Brm - SM 156  -
Click on pictures for larger image


Brm - SM 157  - 20 * 10 mm


Brm - SM 158  - 19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 159  - 19 * 10 mm


Brm - SM 160  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 161  - 19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 162  - 19,5 * 10 mm


Brm - SM 163  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 164  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM  165 -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 166  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 167  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM  168 -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM  169 -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 170  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 171  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 172  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM  173  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 174  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 175  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM  176 -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 177 -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 178  - 20 * 10 mm


Brm - SM 179  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 180  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM 181  -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM  182 -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM  183 -  19,5 *10 mm


Brm - SM  184 -  19,5 *10 mm

Burmese Glass beads

Down left: 24 * 14 * 7 mm
Brm - glass 1
 Click on picture for larger image


These Pyu glass beads are made in resemblance of  the typical Burmese jade.


Colourful glass beads
from the
Mon Dynasty

16 * 5,5 mm
Brm - glass 2
Click on picture for larger image

Burmese Nagaland glass beads
These wonderful blue glass beads are from the Burmese part of Naga Land. They are around 100 years of age, made in India as copies of the much sought after Venetian glass pearls. These old Indian copies are not refined as the original Venetian pearls. However they have their own charm in their more 'primitive' design.

largest beads in upper chain: 13 * 9 mm
Click on picture for larger image

Brm - Glass 3



The Pyu City-States and the Indian Buddhist Influence
The most remarkable and aesthetically pleasing beads from Burma predominantly originate from the Pyu city-state culture. As evidenced throughout this page, these artifacts represent a vast assortment of bead types.

A Snapshot of Burma's Pyu City-States

The Pyu city-states, known for their prosperity and peace, had an impressively long lifespan. They began around 200 B.C. and gradually declined around 1050 A.D. Visitors from contemporary China characterized the Pyu city-states as both affluent and tranquil. Chinese chronicles observed that young Pyu monks chose to wear cotton silk rather than genuine silk, thereby sparing the lives of silk worms.

The Indian Influence on Pyu's Culture
Although the Pyu people descended from a Tibeto-Burmese tribe originating from the Yunnan province, they quickly fell under the extensive influence of India.

Indian Ashokan Buddhism, followed by Gupta influences, permeated every level of Pyu society, facilitated by far-reaching trade relations. This influence was particularly apparent in the southern Pyu areas where the most significant maritime trade with India was conducted. Here, the process of 'Indianization' was highlighted by southern kings of Sri Ksetra adopting Indian titles like Varmans and Varma.

Both the southern and northern Pyu states were influenced by India. Some northern Pyu Kings (Tagaung) even asserted their lineage from the Sakya clan of the Buddha.

Buddhist India: A Super Power
With a population not exceeding a few hundred thousand people at their peak, the Pyu city-states were small in size. Such a limited population lacks the critical mass necessary to create a fully independent society.

Contrastingly, ancient India was a vast empire, hosting one of the world's largest populations. With King Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism, India became the ruler of the world's most substantial economic power.

Evidence of the deep Ashokan Indianization can be found at numerous Pyu sites, which have unveiled a wide variety of Indian scripts. These range from King Asoka’s edicts written in north Indian Brahmi and Tamil Brahmi, dated to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, to the Gupta script and Kannada script, dated to the 4th to 6th centuries AD.

The countless stupas and pagodas in Bagan, encapsulating a purely Indian Buddhist architectural style, likely owe their construction to Indian engineers and architects.

Ruled by independent kings, the Pyu settlements established courts heavily influenced by the Indian monarchy, particularly the southeast region of India.

Kings and Monks
Under the influence of Ashokan Buddhism, Kings were not considered inherently divine. Instead, their legitimacy was sanctioned through a symbolic 'baptism' by Buddhist institutions. The people of Pyu, and later the Burmans, adhered to the original state Buddhism of the Ashokan empire. This created a symbiosis between monasteries and the state, whereby Kings could not exist without being divinely ordained by the Theravada institutions.

From the inception of the Pyu culture to the English conquest of Mandalay in 1885, Buddhist monks played a crucial role in sanctifying Burmese kings. Monks performed the necessary rituals to validate the monarch's divine right to rule. In return, royal families provided financial support to the Sangha (the monastic community). This system, which slowly faded in India with the rise of the Sunghas, continued in Burma until the English extinguished the royal classes during the last Anglo-Burmese war in 1885.

Animist Buddhism
By the 4th century, the Pyu had largely embraced Buddhism. However, akin to contemporary Burma, the practice of Buddhism often layered over a deep-rooted animistic core. This blend of beliefs is akin to the creation of Burmese lacquer art - beneath many layers of lacquer, the innermost core is made of animal horse hairs. In essence, the Burmese culture remains fundamentally animistic. The interpretation of Burmese Buddhism should be viewed within this animistic context. This also applies to the bead culture and the associated magical beliefs attached to beads, which reflect the spectrum between Animism and Buddhism.

The Ascendancy of the Burman Culture
Around 800 AD, the Burman culture began to slowly replace the Pyu culture, initiating from Bagan. A recurring theme in history is the tendency of the victors to adopt the culture of the defeated, and the Burmans were no exception. A poignant illustration of this is seen in the actions of the new Burman ruler who assumed an entirely Indian name, King Anawrahta. In 1044, when he declared his conversion from Ari-Buddhism to Theravada Buddhism, he commissioned the building of the Schwezigon Pagoda. Interestingly, this pagoda was constructed in the distinctive architectural style of the Pyu.

Schwezigon Pagoda, Bagan, 1044

Buddhists and Hindus: Co-existing Cultures
The civilizations of the Pyu and later the Burmans were predominantly Buddhist, however, they had a significant and respected Hindu minority, mirroring the religious diversity of India. Regrettably, much evidence of a prosperous Hindu culture in Burma was systematically destroyed following the military coup in 1962. For instance, in Bagan, several hundred ancient Pyu Shiva-lingas were demolished as part of the military's efforts to eradicate all Hindu cultural influence in Burma. Simultaneously, millions of Indians who had settled in Burma during the British colonial period were expelled from the country by the new military dictatorship.

The Evolution of Bead History
The trajectory of bead production mirrored the political shifts in power, as the production techniques and styles were appropriated by the ascendant Burman rulers. Consequently, distinguishing between an authentic Pyu bead and a bead crafted by the subsequent Burman artisans of Bagan can sometimes be challenging. I had the privilege of interacting with a group of Burmese individuals whose livelihoods depend on bead hunting. From my experience, they are the most adept bead experts I've encountered throughout my time as a bead collector. They maintain that they can easily differentiate between a Pyu bead and a later Bagan-Burman bead, attributing the decline in the quality of bead making to the period following the Pyu civilization's decline.

Certainly, Pyu beads possess a distinct identity and artistic allure. However, it's critical to remember that these beads, along with their designs, served as vessels of cultural and religious symbolism, largely influenced by the Buddhist epicenter, India.

In examining the design and symbolic significance of Pyu and subsequent Burmese beads, it's essential to consider their well-documented connections to and dependencies on Indian trade. Furthermore, it's important to remember that during the Pyu era, India was a predominantly Buddhist country. Thus, all beads from this period, and even those created later, should be interpreted in the context of the syncretic blend of Animistic and Buddhist traditions in Indian culture.

Presently, Pyu bead culture is often misinterpreted as an isolated phenomenon, akin to the erroneous perception of Gandhara art as a cultural artifact exclusive to Afghanistan. However, Gandharan art wasn't merely a local artistic expression; it was an integral part of the flourishing State Buddhism of Greater India.

Below, I've displayed a selection of etched beads that I procured in Bagan. These beads share an identical design with the ones I discovered in Northwest India and Pakistan. As it often happens, beads can be seen as voyagers — on one hand, they lose their historical context through travel; on the other hand, they actively contribute to the creation of history through their journey.

Beads from Bagan, Burma


Beads from Northwest India
Assessing the Age of Pumtek Beads
In the West, Pumtek beads are often classified as Pyu beads. However, during my visits to Burma, I found that local diggers, collectors, and bead sellers do not acknowledge this classification. Many were not even familiar with the term 'Pumtek', referring to these beads simply as 'Chin beads', indicating their origin from the Chin province in Northwestern Myanmar. This, combined with my historical investigations, led me to formulate the following hypothesis:

At the onset of the Pyu culture, there was no distinct or remarkable bead culture in Burma. Similar to the architectural styles of the pagodas, the lives of the Kings, and so forth, the prevailing cultural elements were largely modeled after those of their Indian Buddhist neighbor. Consequently, the earliest beads discovered in Burma exhibited purely Indian designs, either produced in India or by Indian-influenced artisans residing in Burma. It was only later that the various tribes of Burma began to cultivate their own styles and techniques of bead making.

This evolution mirrored the progression observed in the development of stupas and pagodas in Burma. Initially, structures at Bagan were purely derivative of Indian architecture. However, as the Burman culture expanded and exerted influence over neighboring tribes and regions, Burma started to develop its own distinct style of stupa and pagoda architecture.

Bagan-Indian cloned stupa style

One of the primary characteristics of Pumtek beads is that they are made from petrified or agatized wood, a material not found in India but abundant in Burma. Therefore, Pumtek or 'Chin' beads could be seen as representing a later, more 'localized', and independent progression in Burmese bead making. Interestingly, this development did not occur within the historical centers of power in Burma, but rather at the periphery of the country.

At present, I do not possess sufficient evidence to confirm this hypothesis; it remains a working model. However, if considered from this perspective, Pumtek or 'Chin' beads may not be as ancient as previously thought, potentially not exceeding a maximum age of 1000 years.

The Significance of the Buddhist Cruciform
One of the most prevalent symbols observed on Pyu beads is the cruciform.


17 * 8 mm

 BRM 13 -  30 * 30 * 5 mm

16 * 4 mm

Old fossilized beads with the typical Burmese cruciform patterns with dots

While the Pyu civilization had a particular fondness for this symbol, it did not originate from their culture but came as a messenger of Buddhism from India.

Cruciform stupa structure

of Somapura, Greater India

The cruciform held significant importance in early Buddhism and was integrated into the architecture of most stupas and pagodas. To explore this connection, I presented several well-learned Buddhist monks in Myanmar with cruciform beads, such as the one displayed below, and asked them about their initial impressions of this symbol. Interestingly, even though most of these monks had never seen these cruciform beads before, their responses aligned with my expectations.

"This symbol depicts the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha..."

"This symbol signifies the mission of the Buddha, akin to what is portrayed in the Ashoka pillar..."

Buddhist Cruciform Jasper Bead

26 * 24 * 9 mm
Click on picture for larger image

Again, the profound influence from Indian Buddhism is evident. This pre-Christian cross was the emblem of the renowned Buddhist University at Taxila in Northwest 'Greater India'.

Below you can see a bead from Taxila in Pakistan.


Below, you can see a bead from Taxila in Pakistan. I firmly believe that the patterns depicted on etched beads represent a simple sign language rooted in Buddhist culture. These straightforward signs, like the uncomplicated mudras of the Buddha, served to unify various Buddhist societies scattered along the vast expanse of the trade routes. These diverse Buddhist cultures had different customs and languages, but they found common ground in understanding the humanistic messages of the Buddha. These messages promoting tolerance and human understanding were essential for the maintenance of the trade routes. You can read more about this subject [here].



Contact: Gunnar Muhlman -