Cast Pendant, c. 14th century B.C., Glass
2.5 cm (1 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Don't be fooled by its size, though: it has quite a story to tell. This bead, about two and a half centimetres in length, would have formed the pendant of a necklace made of similar beads (you can see another one here). It's made of glass, coloured blue by the addition of substances like cobalt or copper. Across its surface you can see spiral-like decorations, typical of Mycenaean art: we often see similar geometric patterns painted on clay vases surviving from the period. It isn't hard to imagine the effect of a necklace of blue glass beads like this one: it must have been both striking and highly colourful, corroborating the evidence we have from Mycenaean wall paintings of the bright colours (blue, red, and yellow predominate) and elaborate fashions prevalent in late Bronze Age Greece.
But that's not the only interesting thing about it. Recent scientific discoveries have analysed the pigments present in the glass that were used to colour it blue. By analysing the chemicals in beads like this one, and comparing them to chemicals present in both ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian glass, scientists have been able to deduce that at least some of the glass used for the manufacture of beads like this one was imported into Greece from as far away as Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and Egypt. It's some of the first evidence for the trade and transport of raw glass across the Mediterranean, and gives us a vital picture of Mycenaean society – as not only wealthy, intricately adorned and imbued with colour, but also, importantly, as integrally connected to the vast, interlocking trade networks of the Mediterranean.