Bead Society Of Greater Washington Yale Peabody Museum Council on Archaeological Studies at Yale University
Beads of the World - The Collection of the Bead Society Stored at the Yale Peabody Museum

Mightier Than the Sword: The Allure, Beauty and Enduring Power of Beads

Of the endless creations that define humanity's ingenuity throughout time-from delicate song to the weaponry of war-it is the simple bead that, perhaps surprisingly, ranks among the most important

Beadmakers were some of antiquity's earliest craftsmen, and beads were among the first objects created for trade. From amulets that protected against the "evil eye" to strings of beads that allowed safe passage through enemy lands, beads were imbued with extreme or even frightening powers. Beads of high value were transported thousands of miles, while beads of more modest personality were passed from village to village, from grandmother to beloved granddaughter. Beads and the stories they tell are windows into the past. Through the lens of anthropology, coupled with the tools of chemistry and physics, we learn about the first contact of cultures, often negotiated by the exchange of beads. Through their distribution, beads are maps to vast empires and the spread of trade. The sheer beauty of a long-forgotten bead, revealed by excavation after millennia, cannot but convince us of our common humanity.


Throughout this webpage, we invite you to discover the work of Yale faculty and students as they uncover the beauty of beads and the stories of the lives these extraordinary artifacts touched.

This exhibition is a joint project of the Yale Council on Archaeological Studies and the Yale Peabody Museum. It is made possible by generous contributions from the Bead Society of Greater Washington in Washington, D.C., whose support and 2009 donation of Society collections to the Yale Peabody Museum are to promote the analyses and archaeological interpretation of beads, and to foster in the public a greater appreciation of beads' scientific and aesthetic value.