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Turkey's first evil eye? The manufacture and use of blue beads in the Neolithic

Excavating an extraordinary burial of the Early Hallstatt period from
Otzing, eastern Bavaria, in the museum laboratories
During rescue excavations in 2010, a spectacular Early Iron
Age nd was discovered in the little village of Otzing near
Deggendorf in Lower Bavaria, close to the Danube. e
excavation, directed by district archaeologist Karl Schmotz,
revealed one of the most spectacular burials of the Early
Iron Age from Bavaria. Besides some Neolithic settlement
pits and two other badly preserved Early Iron Age burials,
a circular ditch with a diameter of 18.5 m surrounding a
rectangular burial chamber of about 13 m2 came to light. A
large set of ceramic vessels and animal bones was unearthed
in its eastern part. e set consists of more than 20 vessels
of dierent types and one cup of sheet bronze. e latter
already indicated an outstanding ensemble, since bronze
vessels are very rare grave goods in the Early Hallstatt
period in Bavaria and beyond. Surprisingly, in the middle
part of the chamber, where the actual burial was expected,
a wooden artefact decorated with a huge amount of bronze
studs was detected. is object would later turn out to be
a richly decorated yoke.
Knowing that he had discovered an exceptional burial, Karl
Schmotz called the Archaeological State Collection Munich
(Archäologische Staatssammlung München), which block-
lifted almost the whole burial chamber under the supervision
of Erich Claßen in 2011. Two large blocks, one consisting
of a part of the vessel set and one of the area of the burial
itself, were transported to the museum laboratories. e
bigger block originally measured 2.3 × 1.7 m. Ever since,
the burial has been excavated under laboratory conditions
and restored with nancial support of the Ernst von Siemens
Foundation. e process is being documented using both
analogue and digital methods. As it was initially quite unclear
what to expect within the block, the whole block was x-rayed.
Its content exceeded all expectations.
In the chamber, the inhumation of a young man lay on a
richly decorated piece of furniture. is part of the burial
interior consists of several pieces of wood lavishly decorated
with thousands of bronze studs. Similarly decorated leather
straps lie beside the long wings of the wooden construction.
In the northern part, underneath the legs of the deceased,
wooden parts decorated with bronze plates and other
ornaments were found. Richly decorated horse gear and a
yoke suggest that the piece of furniture on which the deceased
was resting may be a wagon box or a chair-like bier originally
placed on a wagon. e horse gear and the yoke clearly
reference a wagon burial, although at the current stage of
Photogrammetric image of the burial chamber before block lifting. The
red lines mark the sizes of the blocks. In the eastern part the vessel
set and the animal bones are already uncovered. The block in the
southern part covers the decorated wooden yoke (photogrammetry
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Number 82 Spring 2016
in the Neolithic
Blue is a rare colour in archaeological assemblages of the
Neolithic period so the recovery of a large number of
bright blue beads from a variety of contexts at the Neolithic
settlement of Barcın Höyük in north-west Turkey was
surprising. e beads, of several dierent forms and almost
all of which are blue on the outside but white in the middle,
raised a whole variety of questions – how were they made?
Where were they made? How were they used? Were they
meant to be imitations of precious turquoise? Were they
part of a very early long-distance exchange network? e
manufacture of these beads and the possible attempt to
replicate natural materials such as turquoise suggest that value
was attached both to the products and their specic colour.
After researching the use of blue in ornaments of the
Neolithic period it became clear that there was a more
widespread appearance of similar beads at Turkish and Near
Eastern sites such as Tell el Kerkh, Domuztepe, şk Höyük,
Aktopraklık, Çatalhöyük, Canhasan and Yumuktepe during a
broadly similar time period starting about 6400 cal BC. We
decided to use the unusually large assemblage from Barcın
Höyük to explore the technological and social signicance of
these beads, primarily through the use of scientic analyses.
e study of the beads also provides a starting point for
a wider exploration of the signicance of the colour blue
in the Neolithic and subsequent periods. In exploring the
materials with which blue is associated and the social role of
the colour we are ultimately asking if the roots of the blue
evil eye beads that are so familiar in many societies today
lie as far back as the Neolithic period.
Barcın Höyük (excavated jointly by the Netherlands Institute
in Turkey and Koç University, Istanbul) is one of the earliest
sites of the western Anatolian Neolithic (6600–6000 cal
BC) and has a bead assemblage of more than 600 artefacts,
over 40% of which are blue in colour. In addition to the
unusual material, the forms of the blue beads at the site
dier considerably from the general bead typology. By
sampling and analysing the beads from Barcın Höyük and
searching for further evidence of their manufacture and use
at other Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites across Turkey we are
gradually nding answers to our many questions.
Finding ways to understand blue beads
is is not the rst attempt to understand the technology
of early blue beads; a team working on the materials from
Tell el Kerkh in Syria have been seeking both scientic
and experimental methods to investigate their beads. We
have taken up a similar challenge, but with a wide remit to
understand both the science and the social signicance of
the beads across a wide geographical area.
e rst investigations of sample beads focused on the
processes through which they were made and their colour
changed. A series of tests and experiments were conducted to
achieve this end, which included methods such as Scanning
Electron Microscopy (SEM), Elemental Analyses (EDX),
Infra-Red Spectroscopy (FTIR) and some experimental
laboratory research to try to replicate the colouring process.
Scanning Electron Microscopy revealed that the beads had
organic-looking surfaces, with textures similar to ancient
bone and teeth. e Elemental analyses results revealed the
beads to be rich in calcium and phosphorus (found in teeth
and bone), as well as manganese. is result ties in well with
prior research carried out on paleontological bones and a
material called odontolite, which turn blue when heated.
Previous research proves that manganese causes the blue
colour change in these materials.
Tests with FTIR show that the beads are made of apatite,
the characteristic material of bone, ivory and tooth. However
it is not possible to differentiate between these three
possible materials based solely on FTIR. Experiments were
subsequently carried out with bone, tooth and fossils to
see if turquoise colour can be achieved under laboratory
conditions. Using an experimental methodology suggested
by the Tell el Kerkh team, a blue colour was achieved with
Neolithic animal bone from the Barcın Höyük excavations,
which had rst been kept in the solution for nearly 5 days,
and then in the oven for 18 hours at 550° C. In fossils,
ancient teeth and modern bone, we got green or dark blue
tints, but not a colour change.
Although it cannot yet be established whether the material
is bone, tooth, tusk or fossil bone or tooth, it is now
clear that Barcın Höyük beads were subject to a chemical
process. Identication of manganese shows that one process
involved is covering the bead with something that includes
manganese. However, the beads that were turned blue using
a combination of heating and a chemical solution became
very fragile, even putting them in plastic bags caused several
breakages. It is still not clear why manganese alone does not
achieve the desired colour change, nor is it clear whether
heating was used in the process as, although it helps in the
production of blue colour, it weakens the apatite matrix.
We intend to consider where the necessary materials might
have been obtained and how people in the Neolithic could
have made the solutions necessary to produce the beads.
             
 
Ongoing research
While our analyses and experiments are still ongoing, so far
we have expanded our knowledge of the possible materials
used to make blue beads and begun to discover the extent
of their use. It is now clear that these artefacts spread across
a geographical region stretching from the eastern Aegean at
least as far as Syria and, regardless of cultural aliations,
were in broadly contemporary use at sites across the whole
area. We also now know that the forms of the beads, which
consist of a number of distinct types, were similar at all the
sites and do not necessarily relate to the rest of the ornament
assemblages there. is suggests to us that there might be a
common place of procurement/production or a widespread
trend in bead production and use that runs parallel to other
ornament-related practices. We are currently continuing
with research into bead technology, as well as continuing to
build our artefact database and carrying out ethnographic
research into the meaning and use of beads in societies both
ancient and modern.
We would like to thank Hadi Özbal for his valuable
guidance and help with scientic information, designing
and carrying out the experiments. We would also like to
thank Rana Özbal and Fokke Gerritsen for allowing us to
work with their excavation material and Barış Yağcı for SEM
and EDX analyses. Initial work on this project was funded
by a Research Grant from the Prehistoric Society and the
continuation of the project has been funded by the Society
of Antiquaries of London.
Emma L. Baysal (Trakya University, Turkey) and Ayşe
Bursalı (Koç University, Turkey)
Survey of prehistoric tell sites in Pelagonia
Pelagonia is the biggest valley in the Republic of Macedonia.
It is surrounded by several mountains, creating an isolated
landscape which had a signicant eect on the identity of
communities inhabiting this natural enclosure. e rst
settlements were established in the Early Neolithic and
mainly consisted of tell sites built above at alluvial terrain.
Due to the enclosed environment, the rst agricultural
communities in Pelagonia developed a distinct identity
manifested mainly in specic and unique white painted
vessels, anthropomorphic house models, figurines and
house-like tablets. e material culture from this region is
strikingly dierent from that of any other Neolithic society
in the Republic of Macedonia and remained unchanged until
the Late Neolithic, when new features from western Turkey
inuenced pottery production and the household in general.
Regarding the specic character of the rst farming settlements
in Pelagonia, the project ‘Early Neolithic tells in Pelagonia
focused on several aspects of these articial mounds, such
as their positions, patterns, chronology and environment.
e rst stage of the project concerned GIS mapping of
the prehistoric sites in central Pelagonia, including the
determination of their exact locations and mutual spatial
relationship. e survey was carried out for 93 sites, of which
54 were previously entirely unknown. is boosts the total
number of tell sites in Pelagonia to approximately 120, which
currently is the highest quantity and density of Neolithic
settlements in the Republic of Macedonia. is indicates
that Pelagonia was a dynamic region, where settlements
were established often close to fertile soil and wetlands. In
some parts there is a pattern of a bigger tell with ve to ten
smaller ones established in its vicinity, such as at Mogila,
Optičari, Egri, Ribarci, Gneotino, Dobromiri etc. According
to the measurements taken on each tell, there are three main
size groups, with the largest tells approximately 7000 m²,
medium-sized ones 2000 m² and the smallest rou ghly 700 m².
Besides their size and height, the GIS mapping of the
tell sites showed that their location was closely related to
the landscape. Most of the tells were positioned around
... In cross section their inner portions are white and only a thin layer of the surface is blue. The method of producing this effect is not yet known with certainty; there have been some analytical and experimental approaches (Taniguchi et al. 2002), and analyses of similar items from other Neolithic and Chalcolithic assemblages in Turkey are still in progress (Baysal, Bursalı 2016). These beads appear in a variety of forms; at this site there are two discs, three short lenticular-form beads and three chip-form beads (for typology details, see Baysal 2014: 6). ...
... The uniformity of the typology of these beads (Baysal 2014: 4-6) and the difference between their forms and those of the rest of the bead corpus suggest that they probably share a common place of origin. Further evidence and ongoing research (Baysal, Bursalı 2016) should clarify these points. ...
Full-text available
Excavations during the 1960s of the site of Canhasan I in Karaman province in central Turkey revealed that the Chalcolithic ornaments of the region were both complex and varied. The ornaments of the site, consisting of beads (including pendants and plaques), bracelets and plugs or labrets, were made in many forms and from a variety of different materials, and thus hint at a connected world where ideas, resources and products moved from one place to another. While a catalogue of some of the artefacts has been produced previously (French 2010), this article details these ornaments and considers their temporal and geographical positions within the history of beads, bracelets and other decorative items for the first time. It explores legacies from the past, new fashions and the complicated relationships between material sources, technology, forms, style and use during a period and in an artefact category that have often been overlooked.
... These movements resulted in shared material culture that transgressed the defined boundaries of different periods (Neolithic in one region, Chalcolithic in another) and leads to questioning how we talk about geographical boundaries, time and social and cultural practice. Fluorapatite beads at Suluin place the site within a significant distribution network of the Late Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic that stretched across Anatolia and the northern Levant (Taniguchi et al., 2002;Bursali et al., 2017;Bursalı et al., 2017;Baysal, 2020;Baysal and Bursalı, 2016). The distinctive blue colour of these artefacts may have been the reason behind their widespread appeal. ...
The cave site of Suluin, inhabited for a short time around 6000 cal BCE, is located close to Antalya, slightly inland from the south coast of Turkey. The ornaments of this period are not well known in the region and the intensive excavation methodology applied at Suluin has ensured that all ornament-related material, including preforms, production wasters and fragments, was recovered meaning that the evidence presented here gives a comprehensive view of ornament deposition at the site. The ornaments show that Suluin was a well-connected small settlement, with material that travelled from the Euphrates basin, and bead types, technologies and materials that are shared with areas ranging from Syria to west and northwest Turkey. This article places the materials, technology and use of ornaments at the site within their wider late Neolithic context by considering possible exchange of ornaments and shared material culture practices and asking whether this might help us to understand processes of material culture change during prehistory.
This paper aims to reveal the raw material used and the production techniques involved in manufacturing turquoise-like artificial blue coloured beads discovered at the Neolithic site of Barcın Höyük in NW Turkey. A range of different instrumental analyses was conducted on the beads to achieve this including FTIR (Fourier transform infra-red spectroscopy), XRD (X-ray diffraction), XRF (X-ray fluorescence), and Source of Blue Colour in Neolithic Beads from Barcın Höyük 493 SEM with EDX (Scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy). The analyses revealed that the beads were made of fluorapatite, resulting from the natural transformation of the bone matrix. Laboratory experiments were further conducted on modern and archaeological bones and similar materials in an attempt to replicate the turquoise-blue coloured beads and to understand the production process.
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