Unravelling the history of glass beads in Arnhem Land

Daryl Wesley, Mirani Litster

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


    This paper charts the early history of Indigenous engagements with Macassans, Europeans and other foreigners in western Arnhem Land and highlights that there has been little documentation of glass beads associated with these interactions. Archaeological excavations conducted by one of the authors and the Australian National University in 2008-2010 resulted in the recovery of a glass bead assemblage from seven western Arnhem Land archaeological sites. Preliminary analysis of the bead assemblage and its associated archaeological context supports the case for the introduction othese items to Arnhem Land Indigenous communities starting with South East Asian trepang fishennen from Makassar, Sulawesi, before the European settlement of northern Australian in the 1820s. Glass beads later became a significant commodity following European settlement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the development of a variety of commercial enterprises and the establishment of Aboriginal mission settlements in Arnhem Land. This new archaeological evidence fills important knowledge gaps as to when, where and how beads may have started to gain value as a commodity. We present here a description of 106 glass beads/fragments found in the seven Indigenous archaeological sites. We integrate this with the history of Indigenous culture contact and the traditional exchange systems that enabled the incorporation and commodification of glass beads into the existing Aboriginal material cultural systems.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    EventBorneo International Beads Conference - Kuching
    Duration: 1 Jan 2015 → …


    ConferenceBorneo International Beads Conference
    Period1/01/15 → …


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