May 2024
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Artisan's Challenge Replicated Glass Beads

The Challenge:

Document and create 3 to 5 beads from the same time and place. Documentation of your source/inspiration beads is the minimum required, but there are extra points in you can find evidence of locations of local glassworks to your chosen time and place, and super extra points if you can document (or reasonably so) where the mineral salts came from to make the colors in the beads. Also extra points for more difficult beads.

The Beads:

I attempted to recreate two sets of beads from grave sites in Dublin, Ireland at the Norse Cemeteries in Kilmainham-Islandbridge.  Both sets of beads were described by E. C. R. Armstrong in his 1921 paper entitled, Two Irish Finds of Glass Beads of the Viking Period.  Included in the paper are drawings of the beads from both sites.

Glass Beads found at the Norse cemetery at Island Bridge, Kilmainham, Co. Dublin

The beads, as can be seen from the illustration, are of various types: the first (a) is a dark blue bugle-shaped bead, with white bands blue shaded, in the centre, and at each end; the second (b) belongs to the roped variety, the back ground colour being green and the ropes shaded with white threads; the third (c) has an inlaid wavy pattern of white with a red inset, on a dark blue back ground; the fourth (d) has an irregular ribbon pattern of white on a green back ground; the fifth and sixth (e) and (f) are plain, (e) being a clear pale blue, and (f) opaque green, glass; the eighth (g) is a grooved ring bead of pale green glass.

Glass beads found at the Norse cemetery at Island Bridge

The first (j) is a ring bead of green glass, set with yellow studs; the second and third (k) and (1) are plain ring beads of blue glass; the fourth (m) has a black ground worked over with a lattice pattern of blue; the fifth (n) shows on a black ground a diamond, centered by a spiral in blue; the sixth (o) has a blue back ground shaded with a herring-bone pattern of white lines; the seventh (p) is plain clear green glass.

Equipment and Glass:

I used Effetre Glass, COE 104 for all of my beads, using a Hot Head bead making torch head and MAP gas fuel.   All of the beads were brought down to room temperature slowly in a ceramic fiber blanket.  I used bead release  that I have made consisting of 1 part Kaolin, 1 part alumina hydrate, 1 part high temperature kiln wash and 1/4 part diatomaceous earth.

My Reconstruction:

My Reconstruction of Glass Beads found at the Norse cemetery at Island Bridge, Kilmainham, Co. Dublin

My Reconstruction of Glass Beads found at the Norse cemetery at Island Bridge.

The colors on the bead images were put in as a reference guide for me as I made the beads.  All of the pictures I had of the beads were black and white, although the colors were described by Armstrong.


Due to the black and white images, I could not tell exactly what colors the beads should have been.  For my first attempt at bead n, I used a dark blue for the spiral pattern.  This color was much too dark and you could not see the pattern over the lack background.   The new color that I used for beads m and n, is a very light blue.

I had a great deal of difficulty with bead m.  I believe that these problems arose from my own limited skill and the thickness of my stringer.  I attempted to make a thinner stringer, but I was not happy with the results.

For bead o, I used a pick to create the chevron shapes with the white glass.  I had attempted to create the chevrons by glass placement alone, but I was unsuccessful.

I believe many of my beads were smaller than the originals and between my own limited skill, and the size of my torch, I was not able to make beads much larger than the ones I made.  The smaller size of my beads also made it difficult to get the fine details.

There were four beads that I was not happy with at all.  While not terrible beads, I do not feel like they were reasonable recreations of the beads I was attempting.

Beads that I were not happy with.

Information about the Extant Beads:

C.S. Briggs compiled a paper for the National Monuments Record, Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments, in which the Kilmainham beads were discussed.  Using the image from Armstrong, Briggs noted that bead c is a characteristic Viking bead.  This type was classified by Callmer, as Class Bf, which was common in Scandinavia between 820 and 860.  According to Briggs, Scandinavia may have been their place of origin.  Bead d is similar in design to bead c and is likely from Scandinavia as well.

Beads a and b are known as string beads, and although I did not try to recreate them, they are worth mentioning.  That type of bead is not uncommon in Ireland, and according to Briggs,  that is their likely place of origin.

According to Briggs, the beads from this find are likely from 840-900 C.E.

Biggs also discussed the composition of some beads from the Kilmainham-Island cemeteries, not necessarily the ones described above, citing research done by Mallet.  A dark blue bead which resembled modern cobalt glass, but filled with tiny bubbles, was found to have oxide of cobalt as the coloring agent and also contained trace amounts of copper.  Another bead, which was light blue verging on green, was found to contain copper oxide as the coloring agent.  A third bead, which was nearly clear with a small tint of green, was found to have no coloring agent apart from trace amounts of iron oxide.

It was noted by Briggs that Dublin County has many of these minerals present within ten miles of the cemeteries.


E.C.R. Armstrong.  Two Irish Finds of Glass Beads of the Viking PeriodMan. Volume 21, pg, 71-73, May, 1921.

C.S. Briggs.  A Neglected Viking Burial with Beads from Kolmainham, Dublin, Discovered in 1847. National Monuments Record, Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments (Wales)

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