Stone beads from Irish passage tombs: symbolism, social identity and the self /
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In pre-industrial societies beads act as a medium of symbolic and social expression. Their role as a communication media means they affect all aspects of society from domestic and social life to ritual action. Determining traditions in stone bead and pendant use and deposition contributes to our understanding of the ritual and symbolic function of passage tombs and our perception of Neolithic social and personal identity. This is the first dedicated study of Neolithic stone beads from Irish passage tombs. The entire corpus of stone bead and pendants from Irish passage tombs was examined at the National Museum of Ireland and University College Dublin. The material was classified based on morphology, colour and additional physical characteristics, and compiled into a catalogue. The beads and pendants were then assessed using a number of analytical and theoretical approaches including a pioneering use-wear case study of beads from Knockroe, Co. Kilkenny. Patterning in the physical characteristics, evidence of wear and context were investigated in relation to prior archaeological analysis and ethnographic examples. The results demonstrate that standardized symbolic structures and social conventions were utilized in passage tomb ritual throughout Ireland during the Neolithic.
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