What Is It? April 2023

 These beads are called Roman face beads. There is amazing detail in these tiny beads, shown here much larger than actual size. The eyes, mouth and other features were made by fusing rods of differently colored glass with heat, then slicing the fused rods and embedding the slices in glass beads. Invented by Syrians and Egyptians during Roman time, the technique spread through the ancient world; these are probably from Syria. They show the pitting of age, although the corroded areas have been partly restored by grinding to a smooth finish.
 Marjorie McLaren of Anchorage, Alaska says that April’s What Is It? shows two early Roman mosaic glass face beads, likely made somewhere in the eastern part of the Roman empire in the period from 100 B.C. to 100 A.D..  The spherical beads are actually quite small, probably less than 1.6 cm in diameter, and are relatively rare.  Thus they are quite valuable.  The faces, likely four inset around each bead, probably represent Medusa, whose hair was made of snakes and whose gaze could turn men to stone.  The hair is stylized, with black rods simulating individual snakes.  The level of detail on the beads is exquisite.  It is amazing to realize that the glass rods/forms were assembled into a face form and then fused/melted together into a glass cane. The cane was then drawn out to a much smaller diameter with apparently little distortion in the faces.  The cane would be sliced thin and the “mosaics” fused or melted to a spherical bead, usually in the central region of the bead.  Beads can easily fetch upward of $1000 depending on “provenance” and condition.
 Another reader correctly identified our April What Is It. Teresa Cobb of Cawker City, Kansas, added to our information,   “There were 3 sisters known as Gorgons. A Gorgon is a monster in Greek mythology. The sisters were Sthenno, Euryale and Medusa. Gorgons were generally described as winged human females with living venomous snakes in place of hair.”
Congratulations, Marjorie and Teresa. You have won a year’s subscription to the Mountain States Collector.

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