The vast complex of the Israel Museum, based in Jerusalem, is its largest cultural institution and houses the Archaeology Wing, recently visited and extensively photographed by Jocelyne Okrent and her children, Eliana and Daniel Mitropoulos. This enabled us to write a brief review of their extensive glass ornament and small object collections of the ancient Middle East. Here we show glass beads and other items of personal adornment from Mycenaean Greece to the Islamic Period, when their glass products were widely distributed in antiquity. Given the importance of glass and other silicate beads and ornaments in deciphering dating, trade, technology, and cultural traits of ancient peoples, this exhibit covers most of the important glass ornaments from the ancient Middle East.
Like neighboring Egypt, Israel is also rich in archaeological glass. The glass ornaments of the Archaeology Wing, both from within the country and the surrounding Middle East, have been documented by Maud Spaer’s catalog (2001). Much of their holdings in glass come from the 1970s donation of the Eliahu Dobkin Collection, which was assembled in Jerusalem. Additional important contributions came from the Stern Collection, acquired in Egypt, and the Rabenou Collection, gathered in Iran.
The 1970s were the beginning of intense activity in the bead community and I began acquiring the Ornament bead study collection then (Liu 1995), often from sources in the forementioned countries, as these were the main suppliers of the marketplace. It is likely that Lebanon, Syria and Turkey also contributed glass ornaments. Jocelyne’s late mother, Rita, of the Rita Okrent Collection, was a major dealer of beads and other jewelry at that time.
Because a large part of the museum’s glass beads, pendants, earrings, and bracelets came from private collections, not only does it match that of many other bead collectors, but also tends to be more broadly representative than many museums without access to such types of collections. Thus their displays and accompanying captions are heuristic for museum visitors who want to expand their knowledge of ancient glass ornaments and small objects of glass like spindle whorls, as well as glassworking in general.
Few museums are able to exhibit glass workshops and their products, such as the one from Beth Shean. A glass furnace was also found, as well as ashes and olive pits for annealing the glass, to prevent cracking from heat stresses. At a mid-first century B.C. Jerusalem glass workshop, there was evidence of glassblowing, a late glass technique that is not germane to most ancient beads shown.
While some of the glass ornaments are segregated as to age or culture, others are shown in a mixed lot, which can be confusing to those who have less knowledge of dating or attribution of beads. But such assemblages are often the way beads are found or acquired from the marketplace. The obvious challenge is in their identification. Often, working with small batches of mixed beads provides good opportunities for learning. For example, in Figure 4, of gold glass beads, there are also three pyramidal glass spacers, two of blue glass, one with a gold-foil cover. Hotworked, then ground, these show how gold was used to enhance glass ornaments. This is a practice that dates from at least Mycenaean culture, when beads, like those shown on this page, were also gold-foiled.
Left to right, top to bottom:
1. MYCENAEAN GLASS IVY LEAF SPACER BEADS, press-molded, fourteenth-thirteenth century B.C.
2. TRIANGULAR EYE BEADS, from Jerusalem and the Aegean(?), late ninth-seventh century B.C., with core-formed glass vessels, sixth-third century B.C.
3. MONOCHROME BEADS/SPACERS, TRAILED BEADS AND BIRD BEADS, Near East and Western Asia, fifteenth-thirteenth century B.C.
4. GOLD GLASS BEADS, BEADS SIMILAR TO THOSE FROM RHODES AND ROMAN PYRAMIDAL SPACERS, latter having one with gold-foil cover.
5. TABULAR EYEBEADS, THREE EARPLUGS/ORNAMENTS AND TWO BIRD BEADS, Western Asia, Egypt and probably Italy, eighth-seventh century B.C.
6. EYEBEADS, Mediterranean region, Persia and Egypt, sixth century B.C. - A.D. fourteenth century.
7. STRAND OF GLASS PENDANTS, varying dates, up to Byzantine Period.
8. ISLAMIC PERIOD BEADS AND PENDANTS, including those done with folded technique.
9. GLASS BRACELETS, unprovenanced, A.D. third-nineteenth century.
10. ROMAN/PTOLOMAIC, ISLAMIC AND BYZANTINE BEADS AND PENDANTS; note use of loops, and characteristic yellow/green date bead from Egypt.
11. SILVER HOARD FOUND IN TERRACOTTA JAR, mostly of silver jewelry, rolled/folded silver melts, carnelian and other hardstone beads, as well as faience beads. Most likely this was a jeweler’s hoard. Possibly the silver was rolled to save space in the jar.
Lankton, J. W. et. al. 2003. A Bead Timeline. Volume I: Prehistory to 1200 CE. Washington, D.C.: The Bead Museum/Bead Society of Greater Washington: 96 p.
Liu, R. K. 1995. Collectible Beads. San Marcos: Ornament, Inc: 256 p.
Spaer, M. 2001. Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum. Beads and Other Small Objects. Jerusalem: The Israel Museum: 384 p., 1 map.
Jocelyne Okrent is the owner of the Rita Okrent Collection, which she has managed since early 2008. Her mother, Rita Okrent, was a pioneer bead dealer and ethnic jewelry designer, active from the 1970s/1990s in necklace design with ethnic beads. Although Jocelyne’s professional expertise was as a product manager in technology, and not in her mother’s bead collection, she has become knowledgeable regarding her mother’s remaining inventory. In her spare time, Okrent manages her twin thirteen year olds, two cats and a dog, and does some local Southern California Bead Society Bazaars.
Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry and ancient Egyptian jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about glass ornaments at The Israel Museum with Jocelyne Okrent, and documents five jewelers who attended the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.