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Viking Era Beads

In addition to the research on bead furnaces I am, of course looking at the beads themselves.  Callmer's book on the topic has a LOT of useful information.  I pumped that information into an excel spreadsheet and started to run some numbers.  A caveat - Callmer ignores amber beads, metal beads, and finds with less than 10 beads - this will skew the numbers.

To help understand how this skew will work, here are some alternative numbers from Brondsted's survey of Danish Viking era graves (1936 - Acta Archaeologica VII). The information is a little sketchy but he summarizes 345 graves including 314 inhumations and 41 cremations. Of those graves 49 (14.2%) have 1 or more bead. 35 of those 49 have known numbers of beads (the others say only "beads"). Only 7 graves (2%) have 10 or more beads. For the 35 graves with known numbers the average (mean) number of beads is 8. The median number of beads is 3, and the mode is 1. Of the 23 beads of known type & number 17 are glass, 4 amber, 1 rock crystal, and 1 stone. Clay beads are also mentioned but without specific numbers. So please remember that Callmer's information below likely only applies to 2% of the finds, and ignores 17% of the beads (amber). Still it is the best information we currently have.  Some day it would be nice to revisit each of the 299 finds in Callmer and add the additional information.

Callmer also uses intensity rather than raw numbers of beads within his work. This number combines information about the finds, with information about the numbers of beads to provide more information. He calculates this using the following formula:
sqrt ( (number of finds of a bead type / total number of finds) (%) X  (number of beads of a bead type / total number of specified beads)  (% ) )

I took these numbers and for each bead class in each period converted them to percentages.  Thus in this article and on the plates below when I show 3.4% this means this type of bead accounted for 3.4% of the total bead intensity in this period.  In period IV for example the total intensity of all beads found in this period adds up to 293.1 thus bead class A020 which has an intensity of 10.2 accounts for 3.48% of the intensity and is shown as 3.4% in the bead recognition chart. THIS DOES NOT MEAN 3.4% OF THE BEADS FOUND WERE OF THIS TYPE.

This article is divided into four sections:
Fun with numbers
A look at some interesting numbers including number of beads per find, and bead size.
What colour was the most popular?
Bead Recognition Charts
What beads are most common when and what do they look like?
How do I use this
This section wraps everything up into a bundle to help you go shopping.
Fun with Numbers

Total number of finds: 299
Total number of beads: 14945
Largest Find: 1216
Smallest Find: 10

The average (mean) number of beads in each find is 50.0. (This is the total number of beads divided by the total number of finds.)

The 5 largest finds have 1216, 603, 402, 365, and 304 beads.

There are 21 finds with 100 or more beads (7.0% of the finds).

The Median number of beads in each find is 32. (Half the finds have more than 32 beads, half the finds have less.) Let's just take a moment and consider the implication of that a little bit further. Remember that according to Brondsted's numbers Callmer is only looking at the top 2% of the burials. If you are wearing more than 32 beads you are saying "I'm in the 1%".

The Modal number of beads per find is 17. (The most common number of beads in a find - 11 finds have 17 beads)
The second mode is 28 (10 finds have 28 beads)
There are 7 third modes (the next most common number of beads in a find). These are groups of 9 finds with the same number of beads. Thus the next most common number of beads is actually 7 different numbers. There are 9 finds with 18 beads, 9 finds with 20 beads, 9 with 27, 29, 36, and 9 with 47 beads. That is quite a range (18-47). The average (mean) of those 7 numbers is 28.6 beads.

When we group the finds into ranges we very quickly see a pattern.  Less beads is more common.

Number of beads Number of finds Percentage
10-19 66 22%
20-29 71 24%
30-39 55 18%
40-49 33 11%
50-59 13 4%
60-69 19 6%
70-79 8 3%
80-89 2 1%
90-99 11 4%
100+ 21 7%

Sizes of Beads

Callmer gives bead size by a range. i.e. a bead with a diameter (size of bead perpendicular to the string) of his type "162" means its diameter is 3-5mm. To make numbers work I assigned this a "minimum" of 3mm, "avgerage" of 4mm, and "maximum" of 5mm. For each class of bead these numbers are listed (e.g. B392 beads are 12,13,14 mm diameters). For each find a weighted average, minimum, and maximum was created. The minimums for each find are then averaged to obtain the "average minimum" below.  The "average maximum" and "average average" (a fun concept) are calculated in a similar fashion.

Average Average Diameter: 9.9 mm (median 9.2, mode 9)
Average Minimum Diameter: 7.1 mm (median 6.2, mode 6)
Average Maximum Diameter: 12.2 mm (median 11.6, mode 11)

For those following along in imperial units 12mm is a little less than ½".

What does all that mean?

While it is possible that a person would wear a huge number of beads the most likely bead necklaces are much smaller than you see in the modern re-enactment community. A necklace of 20-30 beads ranging from 7 to 12 mm (¼ to ½ inch) in diameter would appear to be "common" among those who could afford a collection of beads. Remember that this sampling EXCLUDES finds with less than 10 beads - i.e. it likely already excludes the lower classes, most men, and focuses on the more wealthy burials.  More than 50 beads would put you into the top 25% of the wealthy (not 25% of the total population).

What colour was the most Popular? How common are decorated beads?

Another interesting finding is the colour/type of bead. I split the beads into three main groups:

Single colour beads including those with metallic foil embedded in them
This includes beads with simple lines, simple colour dots, and the fancy millifiore beads
Crystal, Carnelian, Jade, Amethyst
A chart showing the percentage of the intensity of each type during each period is below but some discussion is worthwhile. The first thing that jumps out is that decorated beads are uncommon. They peak in intensity between 885 and 915, amounting to just over a third of the intensity, but their average percentage of intensity is only 14%. So all those fancy beads really are uncommon.

With regards to my own time of interest (BP IV 860-885), when I put the bead types in order of percentage of intensity, some interesting things pop out. The first multi-coloured type is #15 in the list - one or two colours of lines around a bead. The next is #25 (single colour dots) and #26 (more simple lines). To find a millifiore bead type we have to run down to 36th, and those are simple plain beads with a millifiore eye added. The really pretty millifiore beads start at #52.

224 of the 299 finds have multicoloured beads (75%). Of those finds with multicoloured beads the average number again presents interesting data. The 'mean' (which is 'average' to most people) is 6.7 multicoloured beads. The median is 4 (half the finds have less than 4, half have more). The mode (most common number) is 1 (40 of the finds have a single multicoloured bead - that means 18% of the finds that have a multicoloured bead have only the one). The 2nd mode (next most common number) is 2 beads. 35 finds have 2 multicoloured beads (16% of the finds with multicoloured beads). That means a third of the finds with multicoloured beads have only 1 or 2 multicoloured beads. The highest number of multicoloured beads in a single find is 81. That find is one of the rare ones with 134 beads. Only 38 finds (17%) have more than 10 multicoloured beads.

AD 790 820 845 860 885 915 950 960 980
Monochrome 77.06% 82.33% 91.72% 45.51% 62.86% 50.84% 86.34% 70.67% 79.56%
Stone 0.92% 1.36% 1.26% 42.23% 0.07% 29.44% 10.32% 25.38% 16.23%
Multicolour 22.01% 16.31% 7.02% 12.26% 37.07% 19.72% 3.34% 3.94% 4.21%


Colour means we need a new table, and some more explanations. Again lets use Bead Period IV as an example. The first column shows the percentage of the intensity which has a base colour identified. 49% in this case. Beads might not have a base colour identified when they are stone, or made entirely of reticela for example. Since we know that 42% of the incidence in BP IV consists of stone beads, 49% with an identified base colour would seem reasonable.

Within that 49% the remaining columns identify the percentage of the intensity with the base colour noted in the first row. This allows us to note that dark blue beads have the highest intensity (19.98%) followed closely by greyish green, white to greyish white, and pale turquoise. Together these four base colours account for just under 70%, with the remaining 17 colours providing the final 30%.

Period % with base colour noncoloured white/grey white grey black yellow greyish yellow orange red yellow brown brownish red dark brown malva (reddish violet) dark blue forget-me-not blue bluish grey bluish green pale turquoise light green medium green dark green greyish green silver Pie
I 86.17% 3.32% 19.10% 0.00% 0.98% 0.35% 0.23% 0.64% 0.29% 0.28% 4.11% 0.00% 0.37% 39.96% 0.47% 3.54% 8.93% 0.00% 0.00% 1.31% 0.00% 16.11% 0.00%
II 58.94% 1.61% 19.85% 0.00% 0.41% 2.30% 0.40% 0.73% 0.74% 0.61% 4.24% 0.00% 1.55% 43.82% 0.01% 1.20% 10.15% 0.00% 0.00% 1.15% 0.00% 11.23% 0.00%
III 76.92% 1.23% 5.51% 0.00% 1.00% 21.97% 0.06% 0.53% 0.00% 0.00% 1.94% 0.00% 0.53% 51.60% 0.00% 0.00% 3.69% 0.64% 0.00% 6.09% 0.06% 5.16% 0.00%
IV 49.14% 5.86% 16.57% 0.00% 1.69% 7.89% 0.01% 1.60% 0.02% 0.00% 6.91% 0.00% 0.50% 19.98% 0.00% 0.84% 5.22% 12.99% 0.00% 1.07% 0.00% 18.85% 0.00%
VII 79.42% 5.01% 16.63% 0.00% 7.99% 6.20% 0.00% 1.33% 0.05% 0.05% 9.74% 0.37% 1.01% 18.93% 0.00% 0.05% 4.73% 7.99% 0.00% 2.48% 0.00% 17.46% 0.00%
VIII 62.06% 9.78% 21.47% 0.00% 3.54% 3.49% 0.85% 1.48% 0.48% 0.00% 13.48% 0.00% 0.95% 8.57% 0.00% 0.00% 5.02% 7.09% 0.00% 0.95% 0.00% 22.85% 0.00%
VI 75.34% 4.60% 8.92% 0.00% 4.03% 12.61% 0.63% 1.02% 0.00% 0.00% 1.59% 0.00% 4.20% 23.07% 0.00% 0.00% 3.86% 0.74% 0.00% 30.11% 0.63% 3.98% 0.00%
IX 39.37% 10.93% 6.34% 0.00% 0.57% 19.28% 0.00% 4.01% 0.00% 0.00% 6.82% 0.01% 4.66% 31.45% 0.01% 0.01% 0.73% 2.48% 0.00% 4.97% 0.00% 7.74% 0.00%
XII 71.07% 29.75% 7.16% 0.00% 2.13% 4.55% 0.00% 5.44% 0.14% 0.00% 19.70% 0.00% 0.41% 12.81% 0.14% 0.00% 2.96% 2.00% 0.00% 0.28% 0.00% 12.53% 0.00%

Bead Recognition Charts

The preferred types/styles of beads seem to undergo shifts during the period of the viking age. To help understand this I colourized Callmer's plates of beads.  Colourizing has problems due to

In the black/white versions there is sometimes not enough definition to know what colour should be used. See beads G031:2 and G031:7 in plate 19 for an example.
Consider bead class B110 as seen in Colour Plate I, and Plate 7. There is a mismatch.

In addition to those problems please note that the colours I selected are just my choices based roughly on the 4 colour plates in the book, they are NOT supported by a colour analysis. Finally note that the process I used to colourize makes all of the colours appear as solid blocks. The watercolours in the book (Colour Plates 1-4) seem to show a range of colours within each colour block. It is likely that the variation is just the amount of water in the paint (except where it is deliberately used to show facets), but since I can't know if the artist did it intentionally it should be noted. As a summary please use extreme caution using these as documentation.

With these concerns in mind I created some bead recognition charts.  These charts collect beads for a given period based on intensity. I took the intensity numbers and grouped them into Very Common (>20), Common (>10), Less Common (>5), Uncommon (>0.01), and Trace. Note that the percentage each of these numbers will produce will change depending on the total intensity of each period.

Based on those intensity numbers I have also marked some beads

This is the only period where this bead has an intensity given. This means that if you see that kind of bead on a necklace it pretty much guarantees that it belongs to that period.
The intensity in this period is at least twice the intensity of any other period.

Finally it is worth mentioning is that Callmer has a method of drawing.  The string always goes across the page.  Thus diameter is measured vertically on these pages, length is horizontal.  On the charts I show some of his information. The first line is the bead category (e.g. A020).  The second line is the colour and clarity (eg. Yellow T. = yellow background colour and transparent).  ST is semi-transparent, and O is opaque.  Callmer made the T/ST/O choice by holding the bead up to a strong light.  Line 3 is the diameter range (eg. 9-11 mm) and the length/diameter ratio (e.g. >1/2 <1/1 means the length of the bead is longer than half the diameter but not as long as the diameter).  The final line is the percentage of the intensity provided by that bead class in that period. The bead images are provided in a standard scale so their relative sizes are correct. Their absolute size is controlled by your computer so make sure you refer to the dimensions.

(after 980 AD)
Diagnostic Beads DiagsADiagsBDiagsCDiagsD

How do I use those?

I had someone ask how to use the information here and the charts.

I would suggest - review the "numbers" and "colours" sections above, figure out the number of beads you want on the necklace, and do a couple of quick calculations. Then print off the chart for the period you care about, make some notes and take it into a bead store.

Let's use BP XII for our example this time and make a nice big necklace with 30 beads.

From the second table we know that about 80% of the intensity in this period comes from monochrome beads, 16% from stone, and 4% from multicolour beads.

From the third table we know that most common colours are clear (30%), brownish red (20%), dark blue (13%), and greyish green (13%), all other colours are below 5%.

The intensity percentages on the charts will guide you but I find that reviewing the numbers above helps me put my mind in the right place - mostly monochrome of these four colours.

Of that 30 beads we want about 5 to be crystal and carnelian. So lets get 3 carnelian and 2 crystal (since carnelian has a higher intensity). One S001, and one of either S011 or S012, one each of T007, T009, T010 although if you can't find one use a T001 instead.

We want one or two multicoloured beads - pretty much any of the ones on the page will do, they are all about the same amount of intensity. If you happen to see something like B236 or B505 do grab it as they are diagnostic for this period.

The remaining 23 beads will be monochrome beads. A001 and A131 are "most common" so try and grab 3 or 4 of each of them. A couple of A171s and an R001 if you can find it would be next. A silver foil in clear glass bead (E110), and another clear blown glass bead (E001), with one each of A020, A090, A341, and A360. We now have 15-17 beads so we need another 6 to 8 beads form the "uncommon" monochrome beads. E140 is nice if you can find it. A290, A032, and A066 are diagnostic and thus good targets. Any of the A, E, F, or Q beads will do at this level.

Pay for your purchases, Sling the beads between your broaches and off you go...

You can do something similar with the BP IV charts.  Use more the "very common" and less of the "trace" but use your own judgment.

Less beads if you are poor, more if you are rich. Use up to 1200 beads depending on how silly you are feeling and how "rare" you are comfortable being.

Sources: Please see the bibliography
      Updated: August 23 2017 22:52:48.
Text © Neil Peterson, 2017
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