Extensibility of Callmer's Bead Typology
: Neil Peterson
This article was written for a second year archaeology course and provided a reason to examine a number of other finds of viking era beads. It is extremely simplistic but provides a background on typologies, especially Callmer's bead typology, and a listing of many beads outside the original scope of Callmer's paper.
In studying the Viking era Scandinavian cultures the importance of
beads cannot be overstated. Historical sources are rare in the study of
the Viking world but beads are so important that their value is noted
by Ibn Fadlan in his Risala of 921 A.D. He notes that green glass beads
are highly prized and that high prices can be paid for them.
authoritative study of the corpus of beads exists and it has several
significant weaknesses. In spite of the concerns Johann
Callmer's typology must form the basis for any cross site
comparison of Viking era beads. This paper examines how well beads
previously excluded fit within the typology and how it can be extended
to include materials that do not directly fit.
In 1977 Johann Callmer published his dissertation entitled Trade Beads
and Bead Trade in Scandinavia ca. 800-1000 AD. This book documents
14995 beads from 299 graves. The first of the problems with this thesis
occurs at this starting point. Callmer deliberately excludes many
different types of beads and any site with less than 10 beads. This was
done to ensure that the relationships between the types of beads within
a find are statistically significant and thus relevant to the
chronology that Callmer was focused on creating. This will have the
unintended consequence of perhaps excluding rare beads.
A second issue arises with the beads excluded due to their construction
material. As Callmer's work considers beads from cremations
as well as inhumations he excludes amber, metal, and jet beads as none
of them is likely to survive a cremation. These are excluded so that
the type of burial which may be chronologically or geographically
influenced does not impact the statistical correlations.
The beads within the thesis are examined from a number of directions
including the construction material, construction techniques, colour,
transparency, decoration, size, shape, and proportion. Although ten
techniques of construction are identified only two (folding and drawn
tubes) are directly used in the determination of type. Twenty-seven
shapes are identified which is a significantly larger number than are
used in other papers. Nine shapes are deemed sufficient by
Lundström in her paper on the glass from Helgö, and
Ambrosiani's work on Birka.
Size and proportion are treated
using two parameters. Size is measured in millimeters across the axis
of the mandrel hole. Available diameters are grouped into eleven values
each of which is 3mm in range such as value 162 which includes beads
with a diameter of 3 to 5 mm. Proportion is given one of four values
based on the length to diameter ratio.
Callmer then divides the beads
into twenty-four colour groupings using a purely subjective colour
scheme rather than using Munsell colours as in Lundström, or
measuring the reflection values as a range of wavelengths. Similarly
the translucency of the beads is visually “established quite
subjectively in strong light” (Callmer 1977: 35)
Decoration is the final attribute. Callmer identifies 109 different
groupings of lines, dots and eyes, and patterns of these elements.
Again it is worth noting that the typology is incomplete in that no
effort is spent to detail, or include within the typology the colours
of the decorative elements.
Using combinations of these attributes the beads were grouped into 595
types. It is interesting to note that some of these types, for example
A014, have no representative beads. No explanation is given for the
creation of the type without a bead to match. The types themselves need
to be discussed further as they are another possible source of issues.
Some types are highly specific limiting beads to a single shape, single
proportion, colour, transparency, and single 3 millimeter range of
diameters. One example of this would be A043, monochromatic translucent
yellow glass beads rounded with plane parallel ends between 12 and 14
mm in diameter with a length/diameter ratio less than or equal to
½. Other types show a much higher variability with shapes,
proportion, size, colour, and translucency often accepting a range of
values rather than being restricted to a single value. An example of
this would be type A024 monochromatic cylindrical opaque glass beads
either white or grayish white ranging in size from 3 to 8 mm and with a
length/diameter ratio greater than or equal to 1 (proportion values
The types are then examined chronologically within 12 main and 6
intermediate periods. This preliminary analysis brought to light some
concerns with the initial assumptions. Almost 15% of the sites could
only be placed as addenda within the periods. For this reason the
chronological periods were reconsidered and consolidated into nine
periods reducing the required exceptions.
Fifty-three groups combining
various types are created and the groups discussed in their
chronological placement. The bead groups are then further examined in
an attempt to locate the provenience of the various groups. This
geographical placement is done on the basis of visual similarities, and
where possible material availability such as with rock crystal. It is
interesting that Callmer notes “In conclusion we may suggest
that there may have existed occasional bead production at several
places but that the existence of these is doubtful and, if they
existed, their importance for the total supply of beads was
insignificant.” (Callmer 1977: 102) Yet
Lundström's paper documenting such production at
Helgö was published a year earlier and is mentioned in a
footnote within Callmer's paper. Five years of excavations at
Ribe had also just been completed providing compelling evidence of a
long running seasonal glass bead production workshop, although this
information would take years to be published.
Extending Callmer's typology
The corpus of Viking era Scandinavian bead materials is far larger than
was contained in Callmer's work. This paper will explore
beads from finds smaller than those accepted by Callmer as well as
finds that were not available to Callmer in an attempt to prove that
the typology can encompass beads excluded from the original thesis, or
expanded within a compatible framework to include beads that do not fit
into existing classes.
An extended typology would provide a boarder
base of comparison of beads within the Viking world as well as
enhancing the ability to spot outliers in archaeological sites.
To test the robustness of the proposed typology it is necessary to
explore how a number of finds would map into the provided types. A
major difficulty with this process will be that articles covering a
number of beads often fail to provide detail on each bead at a level
required to place it within the typology. For this reason the material
from each paper will be examined in the depth allowed by the details
contained within the paper.
The material from the Birka finds includes forty-two beads of rock
crystal (Callmer type S), twenty-three carnelian beads (Callmer type
T), 860 glass beads, twenty-six amber beads, and eight beads with no
Ambrosiani identifies eight main shapes. From the
diagrams provided in the article seven can be directly mapped to
equivalent shapes in Callmer's typology. These include
spherical (Callmer shape 121), ring-shaped (122), cylindrical (127),
faceted (135), barrel-shaped (125), biconical (132), and melon shaped
(125). Ambrosiani's eighth type is segmented which is more
difficult to map directly to a Callmer type. Callmer treats beads of
this type according to their style of production. These are usually
produced using a blown glass technique. Callmer classifies these as
type 114 or 115 depending on the wall thickness and notes that they are
segmented with thongs. Although this technique will work it is also
possible to roll glass wound on a mandrel on a textured surface and
produce similar results. The lack of information about the wall
thickness means that segmented beads cannot be treated as mapped to a
specific Callmer type. The final shape that Ambrosiani notes is
‘other' which unfortunately cannot be examined to
see if it would fit with the typology.
The Birka material is also divided into eleven colours plus 51 beads
marked as being of another colour. The easily mapped colours include:
colourless (Callmer colour 201), orange (208), red (209), black (205),
violet (213), white (202), yellow (206). Ambrosiani further identifies
blue and green beads which cannot be directly mapped as Callmer
provides three shades of blue and three of green. Foliated beads both
silver and gold are further identified which can be mapped to colours
223 and 224 respectively. It should be noted that although both Callmer
and Ambrosiani identify gold foliated beads there is no indication in
either case that gold foil was used. So called gold foil beads are
actually produced using silver foil and coloured glass (Welander et al
Thirty-eight of the rock crystal and carnelian beads are noted as being
facetted. Based on the drawings provided in the article this shape maps
well to shape 135. Callmer identifies class S009 for rock crystal and
T009 for carnelian which match both the material and shape of these
beads. A further twenty-three beads are identified as spherical
(Callmer shape 121). Callmer types S001 and S002 identify spherical
rock crystal beads, and type T001 identifies spherical carnelian beads.
Without indications of the length and diameter it is not possible to
definitively assign these beads to those specific classes but they are
acceptable candidate classes. No shapes are given for the four
remaining beads of these materials.
The amber beads require an expected extension to the typology. As
Callmer uses a letter to identify the material of construction W is
proposed as designation for amber beads. Of the twenty-six amber beads
thirteen are identified as barrel shaped (Callmer type 122), four as
biconical (Callmer type 132), three as facetted (Callmer type 135), and
six are not identified by shape. Without indications of the length and
diameter it is not possible to create specific classes for these beads.
None of the shapes identified, however, are outside the range provided
in Callmer's typology.
Ambrosiani identifies 108 monochromatic glass beads. None are provided
with a length and diameter so mapping them precisely to Callmer types
is not possible. As noted above all of the identified colours and
shapes have analogues within Callmer's typology. 100 of the
108 beads have both colour and shape identified, 67 of those can be
tentatively mapped to one or more types. The 33 remaining beads fall
into two groups. The first consists of a single white biconical bead,
and the second 32 white spherical beads. Spherical glass beads are not
noted in any class however there is no simple way to distinguish
between a rounded bead without plane parallel ends and a proportion
near 1/1 and a spherical bead. It is thus possible that the 32 white
spherical beads fall within type A025. Without the transparency, length
and diameter Callmer's typology cannot be extended with a new
class to include the biconical bead but the framework is compatible
with this bead.
The thirty-five multicoloured glass beads identified at
Birka present more of a challenge in classification. Thirteen of the
beads must be immediately excluded from consideration as they do not
identify both colour and shape. Of the remaining twenty-two beads half
can be reasonably matched to tentative classes. Eight of the remaining
eleven are listed as spherical and can fit within established types if
the shape and proportion are changed to define the bead as rounded
without plane parallel ends and a proportion of 1/1. The remaining
three beads are white spherical or barrel shaped and have no analogue
within the typology. Again if transparency, length, and diameter were
provided it would be reasonable to extend the typology to include them.
Although Ambrosiani identifies 959 beads in the article none are
provided with enough information to positively match them to a specific
type. At the same time no information is presented about any bead that
is incompatible with Callmer's framework. The areas of
concern would be the 2% of beads listed with a shape of
‘other', 5.4% of beads with a colour of
'other', and 86% of beads for which a shape and
colour are not listed any which may or may not be inconsistent with
In 1985 Briggs revisited an 1847 find of a burial in Dublin with 9
beads. Although none of the nine beads are given all of the information
ideally needed to properly classify the beads, more information is
provided than in the Birka material as treated by Ambrosiani. Two of
the beads were of amber with a barrel shape (122). This matches the
barrel shaped beads found at Birka. From the drawings provided it is
possible to also define the proportion of beads as less than
½ (Callmer proportion 151).
The remaining seven beads are glass. Briggs identifies beads a and b as
belonging to Callmer's group Bj, and bead c as belonging to
group Bf (Briggs 1985: 101). Beads e and f are defined as
“globular, featureless, and respectively translucent pale
blue and opaque green” (Briggs 1985:101). This suggests a
shape of 122 (rounded without plane parallel ends), grouping of A
(monochrome glass), proportion of 152 or 153 (length to diameter
between ½ and 1.5). Colour and transparency for bead e would
be 181 or 182 (translucent or semi-translucent) and 215 or 216 (forget
me not blue or grayish blue). This would suggest a tentative match for
bead e of A240, A264, or A271 depending on the exact size and colour.
Bead f would be 183 (opaque) and a colour of 219, 220, 221, or 222
(depending on the shade of green). This has no candidate matches but is
still within the framework Callmer has defined.
Bead g is constructed of twisted glass rods called reticella. Callmer
classifies all beads of this construction as type K001. This leaves
only bead d which is visually similar to B683, B686, and B724 but
cannot be accurately assigned without additional information.
Thus six of the nine beads from this find match candidate classes while
the remaining three would require new classes that are compatible with
Gordon's 1990 treatment of a Viking era grave on Islay
documents six beads including three of jet, one of amber, two of glass.
This treatment provides significantly more detail than the previous
articles allowing for a finer level of classification.
Bead a is amber and is an extremely unusual shape with an offset hole.
No analogue for this shape exists in any bead of any type in any
publication discussed here. If this shape is a result of breakage at or
after burial then the remainder does not provide enough material to
match the bead to any shape. If not the result of breakage than this
bead would require a new shape to be defined. New shapes are, like
additional materials, a reasonable extension to the framework Callmer
defined but a shape this different warrants significant additional
Beads b and c are presented with enough information to classify them as
Callmer types A172 and A040 respectively. It is difficult to determine
if the “faint striations” (Gordon 1990: 158)
mentioned are scratches, production marks from the motion of the hot
glass, or traces of a decoration which would require moving the bead
into group B.
The three jet beads like the amber require the definition
of a new major type, X is proposed for these beads. The details
provided allow the creation of three new classes
||122 (rounded without plane parallel ends)
||169 (26 mm)
||151 (L/D <= ½)
||124 (rounded with plane parallel ends)
||168 (22 mm)
||151 (L/D <= ½)
||122 (rounded without plane parallel ends)
||164 (10 mm)
||152 (½ > L/D <= 1)
The 1987 article on this burial at Kneep on the Isle of Lewis documents
forty-four beads all of which are segmented or single segments of a
multi-segment bead. Five beads of opaque yellow (183, 206) each of
three segments could be members of Callmer Types E030 or E031. The
twenty-one clear blue (181, 214) beads of two or three sections are
likely types E060 or E061. The final seventeen beads are listed as gold
or silver foil with one or two segments likely fitting them to E110,
E112 or E130. The documented size of 4 to 6 mm (Welander et al 1987:
155) matches to a size value of 162 or 163 which is compatible with the
types mentioned above. Length measurements taken of the scaled drawings
(Welander et al 1987: 156) and the overall lengths of 9 to 13
millimeters provided (Welander et al 1987: 155) produce length to
diameter ratios from just under 1 to over 1.5 (values 152, 153, 154)
which are also compatible with the types provided above. Unfortunately
the article does not provide wall thickness which prevents confirming
the beads as belonging to these types which are defined as having a
wall thickness greater than 0.5mm. Even if the wall thickness of these
beads is smaller than 0.5mm, however, the blue beads would match type
D001, and the remainder could be easily accommodated in the D beads by
adding six new types to match the equivalent E types listed above.
Lundström's article on the bead material of
Helgö identifies 243 beads and provides additional information
about some other bead types. Beads of bronze, amber, silver, rock
crystal, amethyst, cornelian (sic), clay, and limestone are identified
in addition to the glass beads. Rock crystal (S), carnelian (T), and
amethyst (U) are in Callmer's predefined types. Amber (W) was
added earlier but new types are required for bronze (Y), silver (Z),
clay (P), and limestone (L).
In addition to the commonly used classes: barrel-shaped (124),
biconical (132), ring-shaped (122), spherical (121), cylindrical (127),
conical (131), cubical (134), polyhedral (135), melon-shaped (125), and
segmented (types D and E), Lundström mentions beads made of
wound threads which Callmer would call reticella and group in type
K001. Colours identified in these beads include red (209), orange
(208), yellow (206), green (219, 220, 221), white (202), green-blue
(217), blue (214, 215, 216), colourless (201), and black (205). An
additional colour of yellow-green is given which may be related to
Callmer's grayish green (222) or may require a new colour
value (225). The remaining shapes and colours are compatible with the
Callmer typology and the additional bead materials and possible new
colour are acceptable extensions to the typology.
The “drop shaped” (Lundström 1981: 33)
amethyst bead fits within Callmer's type U001 which does not
have any sub types, or restrictions on shape or size.
Lundström lists three translucencies: translucent (181),
opaque matte and opaque glossy. If both opaque types are mapped to
Callmer's opaque value (183) it is possible that some
semi-translucent beads are misclassified as opaque but this appears to
be the closest match to the author's intentions.
Of the 237 beads found within building group 3, 174 are provided with
enough detail to generate a type. Thirty-eight of the beads are
polychrome and need to be mapped to Callmer's B type beads,
but without additional colour information for the decorations there is
not enough information to complete a mapping. It is only possible to
note that no decorative style is presented that does not have an
analogue already existing within Callmer's typology.
Thirty-one of the remaining monochrome beads, just less than 23%, can
be immediately mapped to specific A-types. The remaining 105 beads
would require new classes to be created but contain no value outside of
Extending the research
Several avenues of additional research present themselves in a review
of this material in addition to the value of adding additional types
and beads into the record. Focusing materials analysis on beads of a
single type noted as being prevent in a particular time period would
allow a further range of studies. For example trace materials could be
used to investigate the number of possible source locations. Combining
the results of that and location of deposition could add information
about trade networks.
Although the typology proposed by Callmer is incomplete additions to
the list of types and materials are easy to accomplish within the
outline of the existing framework. The greatest difficulty in
accomplishing these activities is in determining all of the information
required to accurately assess a bead as belonging to a type or to
completely define a new type.
- Ambrosiani, Bjorn
- 1995 Beads
of Glass and Semi-precious Stone. in Birka Studies Volume 2
Excavations in the Black Earth, (ed) Ambrosianai, Björn and
Helen Clarke Stockholm 1995 pp. 52-63.
- Briggs, C.S.
- 1985 A
Neglected Viking Burial with Beads from Kilmainham,
Dublin, Discovered in 1847. Medieval Archaeology 29:94-108
- Gordon, Kate
- 1990 A
Norse Viking-age grave from Cruach Mhor, Islay. Proceedings of
the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 120: 151-160.
- Lundström, Agneta
- 1981 Survey
of the glass from Helgö in Excavations at
Helgö VII: Glass, Iron, Clay. A. Lundström and H.
Clarke, eds. Stockholm.
- Smith, John Alexander
- 1874 Note
of Coarse Green Glass Beads found at Kinloch-Rannoch,
Perthshire., Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
- Welander, RDE, Colleen Batey, and T.G. Cowie
- 1987 A
Viking Burial from Kneep, Uig, Isle of Lewis. Proceedings of the
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 117: 149-174.