Etched Carnelian and Onyx

The art of bead etching most probably began in the Indus Valley Civilization.
Displayed below you can see etched Indus Valley beads from North west India/Pakistan:

       13 * 11 * 5 mm                                                                  15 * 10 mm                                               12 * 4,5 mm       

Click on pictures for larger image

The wonderful etched eye bead to the left is designed in the rare double ax form. This design is
even older than the designs from the Indus Valley culture. They can
in West Asia be dated back to the Neolitic period.


   9 mm                                  10 mm                                10 mm                                11 mm

These ball beads are all made in high quality. The etching itself is made with great
care and delicacy. Note the thickness of the patterns, especially in the bead second from the left.

Furthermore these beads displays a good contrast between the etching
and the ground color of the surface.
Etched beads are generally evaluated from the
quality of line making and the contrast between the base ground and the etching.

9,5 mm                        10 mm                             10 mm
The patterns must also be taken into consideration. Are they rare and interesting?
Displayed below is an oval shaped bead
with an etching, done nicely, but not perfect.
What makes this bead stand out is
the rarity of patterns.
  The front of bead displays a rare variation on the typical cruciform.
The backside has a pattern I have not seen on any other bead.

The shape of the bead itself is equally important.
This bead is with its perfect
oval shape with the round front and its flat backside, unique.

15 * 13 * 4,5 mm

Taxila, Pakistan - 500 AD?

This oval bead has not been much used. However it displays a wonderful
excavation patina. Compared to the ball beads above its hole is quite small
as compared to the generally big holes in the ball beads above. My guess is that it is
from the end of the heydays of Greater Buddhist India. As I have previously stated, the pattern
most probably is a part of a Buddhist sign language, similar to the Buddha's mudras.
As in the case with the mudras, these patterns slowly grow more complex as time goes by.
Different etchings reflects different social strata in society
Displayed below you can see examples of etched beads ranging from high
quality to the lowest, starting from the left bead below and ending with
the many beads displayed as a lot in the photo in the bottom:

11 * 7 mm                        7 mm                   6mm                    7,5 mm                     10 mm

15 * 7 mm                       13 * 6 mm


Here you can observe a primitive etching on beads with poorly crafted forms.
I showed the photo of these beads to some expert bead hunters in Burma.  
They called these beads 'village beads'. They said that they in their bead hunting
had observed a great difference between beads found in ancient city areas and in
village areas. It seems that the custom of poor people copying the finer crafted rich
mans city beads in these more crude forms was wide spread.

Black dholak beads
Black dholak beads with white etchings are very popular among collectors:

28 * 10 mm                                                             24 * 10 mm                               17 * 8 mm

Black etching
11 * 6,5 mm                                   20 * 14 * 12 mm                                        11 * 7 mm

Rarer are beads with black etching.

Common barrel shaped beads with white lines

29 * 15 mm          These two large wonderful beads were sourced from Burma        31 * 11 mm               

21 * 10 mm                                             16,5 * 7 mm                        14 * 6,5 mm

    13 * 5 mm
            11 * 5,5 mm        10 * 4 mm               10 * 4 mm           6 * 5 mm    5 * 4 mm

More designs and shapes

26 * 9 * 8 mm                                    16 * 8 mm

14 * 7 mm                                                    17 * 7 mm                               11 * 6 mm

10 * 6 mm                           8 * 4 mm                    7 * 6 mm                        10 * 7 * 4 mm
To the left a little black bead with an unusual dot-pattern
On the bead to the right one can observe the ancient infinity sign

5 mm


Largest bead upper left: 11 mm

One of the etched beads displayed above is most probably a fake.
The bead itself is old, but the etching is new. Can you identify the bead?

Here are some more examples of new etchings made on old beads:

Generally new etchings are thin, almost transparent, as one can clearly see in the
beads above. Often one can observe how the new etching follows the old marks in the
beads in a way that it would not do if the etching was as old as the bead itself.
Note the way how the etching follows the crack in the lower left corner of the bead
displayed below:

If the etching is as old as the bead itself, the lines would
have disappeared where later small damages occur,
as you can see in the bead below:

 New etchings are also done in low quality. Today it is possible to copy a village bead,
but very difficult to fake a high quality city bead. In most cases a genuine etched bead
will show signs of age patina in the etchings itself, as you can observe clearly in the
wonderful genuine beads displayed above and below:


16 * 8 mm