Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology

Source Analysis and the African Western Indian Carnelian Bead Trade. Gujarat, India (2000).

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Following a reconnaissance survey in 1997, a field season collecting carnelian samples in Ratanpor district of Gujarat in June 2000 was completed. This was undertaken in co-operation with Dr Kuldeep Bhan of MS University, Baroda, and was funded by the British Academy. This research project developed as a result of excavations in Gao and Timbuktu in Mali (see below). Specifically because within the bead assemblages from these two cities were carnelian beads which were putatively identified as ‘visually’ Gujarati imports (see India Carnelian Beads). These in turn were potentially indicative of trade, albeit indirect, between Western India and West Africa, perhaps from as early as the eighth century AD. This visual identification was based upon the presence of characteristic bead types such as long bicones, as well as the deep red colour of the beads, both features of Gujarati carnelian beads, in particular those produced in the town of Cambay/Khambhat. Rather than basing these parallels on visual analysis alone, chemical analysis was required in order to indicate a match between the Gujarati and West African carnelian beads.

Carnelian samples were collected from various locations in Gujarat including shallow mine workings, and merchants’ and contractors’ stockpiles, as well as the manufacturing sites (see India Carnelian Beads). Carnelian bead manufacture continues to this day, but on a much reduced scale, and an ancillary element of the research was the making of a film on the processes involved in bead manufacture including roughing out, fine shaping, drilling, polishing, grinding, and baking to alter the colour (the characteristic deep red). This film is available for teaching purposes free of charge (Contact). The carnelian samples were analysed using UV-LA-ICP-MS in conjunction with Dr Dave Polya of the University of Manchester and Dr Kym Jarvis of Kingston University, and were compared with the archaeological beads from Gao and Timbuktu, and various other sites in West Africa. The compositional data indicated some degree of overlap between the Gujarati and West African samples but also indicated that further research was required especially with regard to standardisation (see Publications). This was completed by Dr Sharon Fraser as a PhD project. A third ethnographic element to this field project involved visiting the Siddi or Habashi community in Ratanpor village, the Siddis being living testimony to African-Indian connections, for they are a people of African origin (see India Carnelian Beads).