The Dorothy Methvin McClatchey Collection
Beads have played an important role in personal adornment
throughout Africa. While glass beads are perhaps the most
recognizable form of adornment in Africa today, these items did not
receive widespread acceptance until the fifteenth century when
Europeans began importing beads for trade purposes. Despite the
widespread use of glass beads, stone and organic materials (e.g.,
seeds, bone, teeth, shell, ostrich eggshell) have remained integral
components in personal ornaments throughout the country. The
earliest known African beads are disk-shaped ostrich eggshell beads
that date to circa 10,000 BCE. Ostrich eggshell beads are still
used today in the creation of personal ornaments by a variety of
groups in Africa, including the Kung San of the Kalahari Desert in
South Africa, the Dinka (Sudan) and Turkana (Kenya) of East Africa.
Amber has also played an important role in personal ornamentation
among different groups in Africa, including the Dogon and Fulani
(Mali) in West Africa and the Berber (Morocco) of North Africa.
This fossilized tree resin was imported from the Baltic to North
Africa as early as the seventh century CE. Given the rising cost of
true amber, copal and imitation amber have increased in importance
in recent years. This substantial necklace incorporates small
antelope bones, ostrich eggshell beads, imitation amber and cast
brass beads. A counter-weight of similar materials has been placed
at center back to help balance the necklace.