Mystery Beaded Bag: Anthropology Object of the Month for July 2011

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The Department's Bead Study Group, a volunteer organization that dedicates itself to working with beads and beaded items in the DMNS collections, has had a bit of a mystery on their hands. Acquired in November 1971, this beaded bag (DMNS catalogue number A624.4) was originally identified as Chippewa. However, upon further inspection in 1990 by an appraiser well versed in North American ethnographic beadwork, the bag was determined to not be of Chippewa design, but perhaps of African origin.

Now the sleuthing begins. In 2007, Collections Manager Isabel Tovar tasked the Bead Study Group with trying to sort out the vast divide between North American and African designations. Asking another expert in African beads and beadwork resulted in a determination of "not African". Yet another expert in various areas of cultural beadwork  provided the possiblity of the item having been made between 1930 and 1940 in Gujarat, India. The geometric diamond pattern is odd for Gujarat items which usually showcase animal figures, however, there are instances where material from this region favors geometric designs.

The Bead Study Group continued their research and thanks to the various pieces of information provided to them, have narrowed it down to the possibility that this collection piece is perhaps a Gujarat game board. The back of the beaded piece is covered in a canvas backing indicating that the item may have been placed on the ground during play. Other possibilities include the item being a wall hanging decoration or a pillow cover.

Do any of you have more information on what this item might be? If you recognize this piece and can add to the existing documentation file, please contact Anthropology Collections Manager Isabel Tovar.

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