A High-Ranking Norsewoman’s Beads

norsetitlePrimarily Norse with Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Continental influences, circa 9th century.

Lady Elinor Strangewayes, OM.

 449101_original
 [Note: this was an entry of mine in Northern Lights 2010 A&S competition and then was presented to Countess Svava Þorgeirsdóttir upon her elevation to the Order of the Pelican at the Market Day at Birka event in Stonemarche, January 2011.]

One distinctly identifying characteristic of Norse women’s clothing is strings of beads worn between brooches. Unlike the cheap beads abundantly available today, glass beads of the early medieval period were luxury items. Certain patterns peaked and waned in popularity over time. Individual beads were occasionally handed down as heirlooms, showing up in graves dated decades or centuries later.

Beadmaking factories in present-day Germany and Scandinavia produced certain patterns for export. Which patterns were produced at which factory can be determined through examination of waste glass materials at known factory sites. Many of these patterns can be traced back to their factories of origin by comparing their terminus post quem dates (the latest date possible for a particular archaeological site) and tracking the sites’ geographical location along known trade routes.

This strand of beads would be appropriate for a Norsewoman living in occupied England during the 9th century. It contains a mixture of Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Germanic, and Roman bead patterns. For ease of documentation, hold the doubled strand with the shorter strand on top. Make sure the red-dotted blue bead (short strand) and the swirled small blue and yellow bead (longer strand) are on the left.

449101_originalTop strand:

1. Blue bead with red and white dot pattern – This is an Anglo-Saxon design. Bead historian Margaret Guido assigns this to her type category 6xiii, found in Cambridgeshire, Kent, Hampshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.[1] Also based on artifact # LIN-300AC3 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, UK).

2. Black cylinder bead zigzagged in red with yellow ends – Based from a Frankish glass bead found at Dunadd, Argyll. (Original is in white; other documented examples use red.) Artifact # RLS 000-000-582-336-C in the collections of the National Museum, Scotland.

3. Blue melon bead – This pattern is commonly found at Roman sites, sometimes in faience. The earliest example of this bead in blue glass in England comes from a late Roman burial site in Canterbury, ca. 400 AD.[2] Margaret Guido calls these her pattern 1iii.[3] It appears into the 7th century in an Anglo-Saxon context, and later in Norse finds.

4. White bead with green crossed waves and red dots – When this pattern is found with green waves, typically the archaeologist is looking at the results of a Norfolk or Suffolk glassworker’s attempt to copy the blue-waved version popular in the Rhineland, northern France, and the Netherlands during the 6th – 7th centuries. Margaret Guido calls this style type 3iiid.[4]

5. Yellow segmented bead – Blue or yellow segmented beads were extremely common and have been found in many Anglo-Saxon and Norse graves. Simple segmented beads (or single beads broken off of segment beads) represent the majority of beads found in graves.[5]   These were cheap, mass-produced, and widely distributed. Often they are of low quality.

6. Blue bead covered with stacked white and blue dots – The pattern for this was taken from Johan Callmer’s bead charts, reproduced online through the Dark Ages Re-Creation Company.[6] They appear as uncommon beads throughout his period of study (c790-1000AD).

7. Blue segmented bead. See #5.

8. Melon bead. See #3.

9. Blue bead with blue and white spiral latticework over surface – variations of this show up in the second quarter of the 9th century in Callmer’s study of Scandinavian trade beads.[7] See also bead SF4884 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, UK), found in Suffolk, England.

449101_original - Copy

10. Yellow segmented bead. See #5.

11. Blue segmented bead. See #5.

12. Small turquoise bead with red swirls – this is a period-plausible simple spacer bead of my own design.

13. Yellow segmented bead. See #5.

14. Small white and blue swirled bead – this is a period-plausible simple spacer bead of my own design.

15. Turquoise bead with three white and amber dots filled with stacked blue dots – Originally produced on the Continent in 4th C BC; imported to Britain via Roman occupation. Style was reintroduced by Irish glassworkers after 500AD.[8]

16. Bubbled clearish small bead – this is a period-plausible simple spacer bead of my own design.

17. Melon bead. See #3.

18. Blue segmented bead. See #5.

449501_originalBottom strand:

1. Blue and yellow swirly bead – this is a period-plausible simple spacer bead of my own design.

2. Black bead with “sunrise” murrini cane and light blue crossed waves – Based on bead designs seen in the mid 9th century in Callmer’s study. I made the murrini by fusing stringer onto molten cane and pulling while hot. This produced small batches of murrini cane that could then be cut into slices.

3. Blue segmented bead – Blue or yellow segmented beads were extremely common and have been found in many Anglo-Saxon and Norse graves. Simple segmented beads (or single beads broken off of segment beads) represent the majority of beads found in graves.[9]   These were cheap, mass-produced, and widely distributed. Often they are of low quality.

4. Red and white spiraled barrel bead with red dots – Callmer’s G010 pattern, found c860-885AD.

5. Melon bead – This pattern is commonly found at Roman sites, sometimes in faience. The earliest example of this bead in blue glass in England comes from a late Roman burial site in Canterbury, ca. 400 AD.[10] Margaret Guido calls these her pattern 1iii.[11] It appears into the 7th century in an Anglo-Saxon context, and later in Norse finds.

6. Swirly blue & white barrel bead with red/yellow dots – Based on artifact # SUSS-B853D4 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, UK) and dated to between 500AD – 1100AD.

7. Simple yellow bead. 449572_original

8. Black bead with red twisted stringer and murrini – Callmer’s B452 pattern; only appears during 885-915AD.

9. Small blue bead with white wave – this is a period-plausible simple spacer bead of my own design.

10. White bead with blue crossed waves and red dots – This design was popular in the Rhineland, northern France, and the Netherlands during the 6th – 7th centuries. Margaret Guido calls this style type 3iiic.[12] (Also see top strand bead # 4)

11. Yellow segmented bead. See #3.

12. Green bead with white wave and three red lines – Variations on this motif were popular throughout 800-1000AD among Norse glassworkers.[13]

13. Terracotta bead with blue and white dots – Callmer’s B310 pattern, popular from 885-915AD.

14. Blue segmented bead. See #3.

15. Bubbled clearish small bead – this is a period-plausible simple spacer bead of my own design.

16. Black bead with yellow trails and spiral murrini – Variations on this pattern are popular throughout the 9th and 10th centuries.[14] I made the murrini by fusing stringer onto molten cane and pulling while hot, twisting at the same time to create the spiral effect. This produced small batches of murrini cane that could then be cut into slices.

449951_original17. Yellow segmented bead. See #3.

18. White bead with red wave and blue bars – Variations on this motif were popular throughout 800-1000AD among Norse glassworkers.[15]

19. Yellow melon bead. See #5.

20. Blue bead with blue and white spiral latticework over surface – variations of this show up in the second quarter of the 9th century in Callmer’s study of Scandinavian trade beads.[16] See also bead SF4884 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, UK), found in Suffolk, England.

            21. Yellow segmented bead. See #3.

22. Red bead with yellow/black diagonal lines – This pattern, called Imitation Traffic Light by scholar Birte Brugmann, represents a clever shortcut used by Anglo-Saxon beadmakers. The original pattern calls for a red bead to be overlaid with pre-made twisted lines of yellow and black glass. This can be tricky to accomplish, so some glassworkers started making yellow beads, applying lines of black over its surface, smearing those lines into diagonals while still hot, and then applying red glass over it to make it look like it was a red bead to start with.[17]

23. Small turquoise bead – this is a period-plausible simple spacer bead of my own design.

24. White bead with blue crossed waves and red dots. See #10.

25. Melon bead. See #5.

26. Blue segmented bead. See #3.

27. Black bead with red wave and white bars – Variations on this motif were popular throughout 800-1000AD among Norse glassworkers.[18] Many beads of this particular design were produced at the glassworking factory of Ribe, Denmark.

28. Yellow segmented bead. See #3.

29. Black bead with white wave – This pattern is based off two beads found in Leicestershire (Artifacts # LEIC-F568D3 and LEIC-690732, Portable Antiquities Scheme, UK). The pattern was imported into England from German glass production sites. Several have been found at Roman sites in England. They were probably carried along as personal items by Germanic tribesmen serving in the Roman army.[19]


  • [1] Guido, Margaret. Glass Beads of Anglo-Saxon England. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press: 1999. Page 273 and pl. 5.
  • [2] Guido 1999:14
  • [3] Guido 1999:14
  • [4] Guido 1999: 32-33.
  • [5] Margaret Guido calls these type 4v (when in yellow) and Guido 6vi (in blue); Scandinavian bead specialist Johan Callmer assigns these to type E140 (in yellow) and E060 in blue.  Guido 1999: 38-39, 52; Callmer, Johan. Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D., Sweden: Gleerup, Lund 1977.
  • [6] Johan Callmer’s bead charts, taken from Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D, are online at http://www.darkcompany.ca/beads/beads.php?submenu=B#charts
  • [7] Johan Callmer’s bead charts, taken from Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D, are online at http://www.darkcompany.ca/beads/beads.php?submenu=B#charts
  • [8] Margaret Guido. Glass Beads of the Prehistoric and Roman Periods in Britain and Ireland. London: Society of Antiquaries, 1978. Page 62.
  • [9] Margaret Guido calls these type 4v (when in yellow) and Guido 6vi (in blue); Scandinavian bead specialist Johan Callmer assigns these to type E140 (in yellow) and E060 in blue.  Guido 1999: 38-39, 52; Callmer, Johan. Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D., Sweden: Gleerup, Lund 1977.
  • [10] Guido 1999:14
  • [11] Guido 1999:14
  • [12] Guido 1999: 32-33.
  • [13] Johan Callmer’s bead charts, taken from Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D, are online at http://www.darkcompany.ca/beads/beads.php?submenu=B#charts
  • [14] Johan Callmer’s bead charts, taken from Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D, are online at http://www.darkcompany.ca/beads/beads.php?submenu=B#charts
  • [15] Johan Callmer’s bead charts, taken from Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D, are online at http://www.darkcompany.ca/beads/beads.php?submenu=B#charts
  • [16] Johan Callmer’s bead charts, taken from Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D, are online at http://www.darkcompany.ca/beads/beads.php?submenu=B#charts
  • [17] Brugmann, Birte. Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves. Oxford: Oxbow, 2004. Page 76.
  • [18] Johan Callmer’s bead charts, taken from Trade beads and bead trade in Scandinavia. Ca. 800 – 1000 A.D, are online at http://www.darkcompany.ca/beads/beads.php?submenu=B#charts
  • [19] Guido 1999:23
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One Response to A High-Ranking Norsewoman’s Beads

  1. Pingback: Murrini challenges | Life as a Professional Time Traveller

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