Purple-brown glass bead with eye decoration
10th century
Object Name: Glass bead
Period: 10th century
Date: 970 CE
Provenance: southeast Asia
Dimensions: 1.4 x 1.1 cm, weight:2.3g
Medium: glass
Registration Number: QM.2017.0871
This transparent purple-glass bead is one of many similar examples found in the Cirebon shipwreck in Indonesia. Decorated on the surface with blue and white dots, these types are commonly referred to as ‘eye beads’. This example shows signs of deterioration after 1000 years of submersion in sea water.

The technique to make these beads was practiced throughout the 8th-10th centuries in Southeast Asia. They were exported in large quantity to Samarra and the Mesopotamian basin in present-day Iraq. Laboratory analysis has established that this bead originates from South Indochina, then known as Funan, which today includes parts of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Early Islamic Period 622 – 1000 CE

In 628 CE, the inhabitants of the administrative district of Al Hajar, which included the geographical area of present-day Bahrain, al-Hasa in eastern Saudi Arabia and Qatar, joined the new religion of Islam. The territory of Qatar was occupied mainly by two tribal groups, the Tamim and the Abd al-Qays.

During the early Abbasid period Qatar was famous, even at the court of Baghdad, for its red-dyed woollen coats, horse breeding and pearls. The entire population of the region benefited greatly from the maritime traffic passing through the Gulf, from Basra to China via India and Southeast Asia, as demonstrated by the large number of archaeological sites particularly in the northern region of Qatar.
In 2003 a shipwreck was discovered 90 nautical miles (160 kilometres) off the coast of Cirebon, a port city in Indonesia. Referred to now as the Cirebon shipwreck, it had been lost in the Java Sea for over 1000 years. The wreck was found by local fishermen whose nets caught some of the Chinese ceramics originally onboard. Subsequently, the wreck was excavated by archaeologists in 2004-2005, yielding thousands of pieces of glassware, jewellery, ceramics and various trinkets.

Half of the findings have been acquired by Qatar Museums and will feed into ongoing research into 10th-century trade routes between the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The ship’s final voyage can be traced back to 970 CE based on copper coins from the Chinese kingdom of Nan Han (917-971 CE) that were onboard. It is believed the ship was engaged in long coastal voyages from China to the Middle East, via Southeast Asia and India.
BARI, H., 2014, The Cirebon Wreck, dated around 970, its meaning and its presentation [Unpublished report, Pearl and Jewellery Collection, Qatar Museums].

FRANCIS, P., 1991, Glass beads in Malaysia: a reassessment, in Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 64, No. 1, pp. 97-118.

HARANSTININGSIH, N., WIBISONO, S., MIKSIC, J. 2010, Catalogue of the Cirebon Wreck, Sunken Treasures from the Tenth Century (Five Dynasties or Early Northern Song), PNAS BKMT, The Republic of Indonesia, Jakarta.

LIEBNER, H. H. 2014, The Siren of Cirebon. A Tenth-Century Trading Vessel Lost in the Java Sea, PhD University of Leeds.

SWAN, C. 2016, Chemical Data of Cirebon Glass samples, UCL and Qatar Museum [Unpublished Internal report].