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  • Stone Beads of South and Southeast Asia: Archaeology, Ethnography, and Global Connections ed. by Alok Kumar Kanungo
  • Heidi Munan
Stone Beads of South and Southeast Asia: Archaeology, Ethnography, and Global Connections. Edited by Alok Kumar Kanungo. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2017. 459 pp., 250 color and 16 b&w illustrations. Hardbound US $90, ISBN-13 978-8173055850.

The volume entitled Stone Beads of South and Southeast Asia is a compendium of papers presented at a workshop on the history, science, and technology of stone beads at the University of Gandhinagar in August 2015. The event drew together scholars and experts from all over India and other countries and provided a unique learning experience for the students who were invited to attend.

Now that the results and findings of this workshop are available in one printed volume, scholars and researchers all over the world can also access the information. As the editor, Alok Kanungo, puts it in the Preface, “most established scholars prefer to write about the result of their research in highly specialized Journals which reach only a few libraries, whereas this subject has an unwritten mandate to create awareness among the people about their rich cultural heritage thus requiring our publications to reach as many enthusiasts as possible” (pp. ix–x). This is a most important point. Information should not only be collected, but made available in permanent form to the widest possible audience. Such archaeological, ethnographic, and scientific research as has been done on the topic of stone beads (or any beads!) has been scattered in diverse publications, many of them long out of print and almost impossible to find.

Stone Beads of South and Southeast Asia is divided into four thematic sections, the first of which concerns the “Importance and Literature” of beads. One of the great merits of this book is that it collects old and ancient sources, which are digested and used as a basis for presenting modern discoveries. Some of these sources are not just hard to find, they are only accessible to scholars such as Kishor K. Basa, R. S. Bisht, and V. Selvakumar, each of whom is an expert in his field and has deep knowledge of the scripts and symbols of past cultures.

The second section on “History, Methodology and Ethnoarchaeology” opens with a paper by Ravi Prasad, V. N. Prabhakar, and Vikrant Jain. Some major contributions in this section are by M. J. Kennoyer, the eminent archaeologist who has devoted over four decades to investigating the ancient technology of India, particularly that of the Harappan civilization. Kennoyer also contributed to a paper by Kuldeep K. Bhan and Massimo Vidale in this volume. Alok Kanungo documents an ethnohistorical research project in the Gujarat region. The paper by Manabu [End Page 490] Koiso and coauthors in this section is of particular ethnographic interest in tracing the development of the ancient bead culture of the Naga people of northeast India and its connections with the stone bead industry and trade into the modern age.

The next section, “Case Studies from South Asia,” overlaps the remote past with the present in meticulously documented studies of the provenance of raw materials and various technologies used to process and finish the artifacts in different parts of the subcontinent. The team from the University of Padua (Italy) led by Massimo Vidale covered an important site in Pakistan, Mehrgarh in the Indus Valley. Papers by Kuldeep K. Bhan, P. Ajithprasad, M. Madella, V. N. Prabhakar, Rabindra Kumar Mohanty, K. Rajan, and Bhuvan Vikrama discuss most major bead production techniques located on the subcontinent, while Bunchar Pongpanich presents a study on regional marketing and distribution of this important product of the preindustrial age.

The final section, “Scientific Studies,” takes the reader from the field into the laboratory. Here, too, J. M. Kenoyer makes a significant contribution, as do Laure Dussubieux and Mark Golitko and Randall Law. Many important discoveries are being made in the twenty-first century, not only in the field, but also in the lab; we have come a long way from Horace Beck (1928)!

Of the 25 contributors to Stone Beads of South and Southeast Asia, all of whom spoke at the Stone...


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