- Mapping the Indo-Pacific Beads vis-à-vis Papanaidupet by Alok Kumar Kanungo
Alok Kumar Kanungo’s Mapping the Indo-Pacific Beads vis-à-vis Papanaidupet discusses the production of a particular kind of glass bead purported to have originated in South India over two and a half millennia ago. This Indo-Pacific glass bead is claimed to have spread across vast areas of southern and southeastern Asia as well as the eastern sub-region of the African continent. Borne from nearly two decades of Kanungo’s archaeological and ethnographic research on glass and glass beads in India and surrounding regions, this book maps the spread of the Indo-Pacific (IP) beads in Southeast Asia, documents the process of production of the beads at the extant glass bead making factories at Papanaidupet, and describes the social, economic, and ritual use of the beads across Southeast Asia. Contributing to our knowledge of the importance of India in the history of glass, the author details complexities associated with the archaeological study of glass. These difficulties include (1) reconstructing techniques of glass bead production, (2) identifying debris representing different stages in the production chain, and (3) understanding the social collaboration embedded in each step of the production to ensure a successful final product.
The book opens with a short preface introducing some major concerns in the study of the archaeology of glass and glass bead production, including the few occurrences of glass industries in antiquity, the techniques of glass bead manufacture, and the complex social meanings of glass and glass beads among past societies. Kanungo states that the book’s focus is to “discuss the origin and dispersal of IP beads, their technological innovation, the reasons for the continuation of the 2500 years old bead making tradition, the history of Papanaidupet and a detailed and exhaustive recording of the IP bead production cycle” (p. ix).
The book can be divided into two thematic sections with a total of six chapters, and a brief concluding section. Chapter 1 provides a background on the archaeology of glass in India with an emphasis on the development and evidence of glassmaking in ancient India. Chapter 2 centers on the attributes of IP beads, their origins and distribution across the globe. Countering Francis’ (1983) earlier claim that the technique of IP beads was invented at Arikamedu (on the southeastern coast of India near Pondicherry), Kanungo states that IP beads were produced at other workshops across Asia using the same technology at about the same period that IP beads were being manufactured at Arikamedu. He argues for “the emergence of distinct glass technologies and the existence of several independent glass beads making centers at different points across South and Southeast Asia” (p. 24).
Section 2 (chapters 3–6) focuses on ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological narratives about IP beads. Despite the record of production of glass beads using the IP bead making technique at Papanaidupet, there is a challenge of retrieving ethnographic accounts that document the antiquity of the industry at the area beyond the last 200 years (chapter 3). [End Page 190] This conundrum “raises the question of why [and when] bead producers chose Papanaidupet” (p. 27). However, the continuous production of IP beads at Papanaidupet until 2014 and the abundance of wastes that litter the surface of the village allow a detailed documentation of the processes and the labor involved in the production. To this end, chapter 4 is a thorough presentation of the process of production of IP beads at Papanaidupet. Chapter 5 maps the location of the Papanaidupet glassworks and the spatial management within the factory, the proximity of a drawing furnace to a rounding furnace, and the occurrence of nearby religious centers (traditional temples). Chapter 6 discusses the use of IP beads by two distinct traditional groups, the Bondos and the Nagas, in India. Because of the extensive use of glass beads among these two groups, Kanungo refers to them as the “most ornamented communities of the world” (p...