Steatite beads at Peqi'in: Long distance trade and pyro-technology during the Chalcolithic of the Levant

D. E. Bar-Yosef Mayer, N. Porat, Z. Gal, D. Shalem, H. Smithline

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The Chalcolithic burial cave of Peqi'in, northern Galilee, Israel, yielded about 190 beads made of white paste found in the context of ossuaries. They range in size from 2-4 mm in diameter, 1-3 mm in height, and hole diameter is approximately 1 mm. The beads were analyzed using scanning electron microscope (SEM) and x-ray diffraction (XRD). Under the SEM the beads contain silicon and magnesium, with traces of copper and iron. XRD analyses revealed that the beads are made of enstatite, a Mg-bearing pyroxene, and cristobalite, a high-temperature polymorph of quartz, formed when quartz is heated at 900-1470 °C. Our preliminary results suggest that the beads were made by heating talc to a high temperature. First a paste was prepared from powdered talc, water and a binding material. The paste was then shaped into long tubes and fired at a high temperature. This firing hardened the paste and transformed the talc into enstatite and cristobalite. Finally the tube was sliced to form beads. Neither talc nor enstatite is found in Israel. The nearest possible sources for this raw material are metamorphic rocks exposed in Turkey or Egypt. Similar contemporaneous technologies are known from Egypt and the Indus Valley. Here we present the first documentation of Chalcolithic pyrotechnology applied for non-metallurgical purposes. This find is thus of prime importance for both technological innovations and long distance trade during this period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-502
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Beads
  • Chalcolithic
  • Levant
  • Pyro-technology
  • Steatite
  • Trade


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