All About Beads Made from Bone

All About Beads Made from Bone

You might be shocked to know that in some parts of the world, animal bone is used to make bone beads. Once the bone beads are cleaned and made into bracelets, necklaces, lockets and chokers, you might not even know that they were bone by touching them, which makes them perfect for all sorts of embellishing and crafting.

What Types of Bones are Used for Beads Made of Bone

In India and parts of Africa, bone has been utilized for personal ornamentation for centuries, prior to recorded history. Bone fashion jewelry has actually been found in burial websites around the globe. Deer bones make strong, resilient bugle beads and pendants, which the Native Americans are known to use. In India, buffalo and cow bone is used to make bead and bone jewelry; and in parts of Africa, cow, camel and ostrich bone is used. Camel bone is favored, as the large bone structure allows for the creation of large bone beads.

Beads made from Ostrich bone from Africa
Beads made from Ostrich Bone, from Kenya; available at WomanShopsWorld

Bone made into beads and trinkets can be etched or sculpted into almost any style. It takes some time and care to prepare animal bones to make precious jewelry, however it is worth the effort.

How the Bones are Cleaned for Bone Beads and Jewelry

When bones are used to make beads and jewelry, they are thoroughly cleaned before any carving or cutting takes place. First artisans clean out as much marrow as possible with pipe cleaners and other small tools. Then the bones are boiled until all marrow has come out of the bones. Then they are further sterilized and bleached and left in the sun to dry. The sun does an incredible job of cleaning and sterilizing the bone, removing any leftover bacteria.

The History of Using Beads Made from Bone in Jewelry

Did you know that one of the very first materials utilized to make bead was bone? In the late 1800’s, Native Americans started using bone dyed with tea, to make contrasting light and dark beads. The first bead shapes known to have been made are called hairpipes; they were used to construct elaborate breastplates; it is believed that these bone hairpipes might have been made from the metacarpals of cattle.

Hairpipe beads made from bone, often used in Native American beaded jewelry
Hairpipe bone beads, often used in Native American jewelry

Native Americans, Asian Indians, as well as African tribes, used the bones of the animals they killed to make precious jewelry for two factors. They believed it was inefficient to discard any part of the animal. Thus, they consumed the meat, used the hides for clothes, and utilized the bones for tools and beads.

These same factors also apply to present day bone artisans in India, who are often from underprivileged classes of Indian society. So maximizing the use of their rations and goods is most beneficial to them; they do not have to invest in more materials to create a livelihood for their entire family.

Bone Beads as an Earth Friendly Craft Supply

In this regard, bone beads are also an earth-friendly product, as the making of bone beads is using the last bit of waste from an animal when it is consumed. In addition, bone as a material is porous, so it easily absorbs natural dyes, so it does not require the use of harsh chemicals to produce attractive colors on the surface of the bone beads. 

Bone Beads in Jewelry Design

The English settlers understood the importance of beads to the Native Americans, and they started to offer European glass beads to them in trade for products and land that they desired from the Indians. The glass beads began to appear with bone beads in the precious jewelry of the Native Americans and quickly ended up being the dominant bead of choice. The bright colors of the glass beads paired well with the more neutral shades of the bone beads.

Glass beads, often paired with bone beads in beads and bones jewelry
Glass Beads, often paired with bone beads in Native American bone bead jewelry

Today one can still buy bone beads from many sources, including here at WomanShopsWorld. They can be purchased in their natural color, or they can be purchased dyed in assorted shades and colors. These beads come in various shapes, including but not limited to heishi beads, rondelle beads, round beads, hairpipe beads, tube beads, and even bone lockets. Precious jewelry has been used as a gesture of gifting, as well as a vital part of human cultures for years, and one of the oldest known materials for the creation of jewelry is bone. The environmentally friendly nature of bone beads, combined with the striking range of designs that are created with bone, make it a preferred material by many artisans worldwide.

Heishi Beads made from Bone, for beads and bones jewelry
Heishi cut is a popular shape for beads made from bone

The Making of Bone Beads

The artisans we work with at WomanShopsWorld are experienced craftsmen. They understand how to make the finest beads from bone; many of them employee their entire families, and have for generations. Though only hand tools have been used for many years, now some basic equipment is used, and some of the techniques are more complicated. Some pieces are lacquered and hand painted for greater detail and better protection of the surface of the beads. A great deal of effort is associated with the making of these detailed bone beads.

Care of Beads Made of Bone and Bone Jewelry

When you are not wearing bone beads or the jewelry made from them, it's best to keep them stored in a soft pouch. Also keep in mind that, because bone is such a porous material, perfumes and other fragrances or even makeup and hairspray may stain the bone beads. Some people like this feature of bone beads, and use them as scent beads in aromatherapy or essential oil jewelry. While bone is perfectly durable for normal wear and tear, soaking bone beads or bone jewelry in water (bathing or swimming), and also prolonged exposure to cold and heat may weaken it and cause it to break.

If you're thinking of making your own jewelry with beads made from bone, or maybe of starting a side hustle business of selling jewelry, be sure to check out our extensive selection of artisan made bone beads.

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