Ancient dZi Beads from 2500BC to 500AD
Ancient dZi/gZi Beads from 2500BC - 600AD
dZi (pronounced zee, and spelt with a small d and large Z) also spelled gZi, comes from the central Asian region, and are usually found in an area ranging from Afghanistan, Iran, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma and Thailand. They come in many shapes, sizes and forms, from tiny etched carnelians to large multi eyed and striped dZi.
The photos in this collection are beads that I have personally collected in that part of Asia over the last 39 years.
When I first started collecting dZi, you could only find genuine, original beads, 1000's of years old, or obvious copies and fakes not even made from agate, but usually bone or glass, and often quite old in themselves, but there was no mistaking the real from the copy. In recent times however the market has been inundated by so-called "middle period" or "antique" 100, 200 or 500 year old dZi which the sellers are claiming to be genuine. This is simply not true. I will state categorically here and now for the record as far as Tibetan dZi is concerned: "There Is No Middle Period!" If there had been, then these beads would have been around in the 70's and 80's when I was there, but they only started appearing in the 90's when the fakes started appearing on the market, and I think that it is no coincidence. No Tibetan I have spoken to had ever heard of these so-called middle period beads before the 90's, so I think you can safely say they are just modern fakes being sold with a fancy story to increase profits.
Ebay is particularly bad for the sale of fakes which the vendors sell as the real thing. Some of these fakes are so good that even some Tibetan dealers and "experts" themselves are frequently fooled. One way to spot fakes is with a good quality jeweller's loupe or eyeglass. Help on how to detect fakes is outlined below.
Please check my links for websites that sell real dZi, and I can provide a list of genuine ebay sellers of dZi for anyone interested. Contact me for more information.
There appears to be inaccuracies about the dating of the original "pure" dZi, the most common error is stating that it is 8th century. This error of thinking comes from a date found in the bead collector's bible "The History Of Beads" by Lois Sherr Dubin, where dZi is placed on the fold out "Time Map" in the 700's AD alongside the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet. However, if the reference numbers next to the beads are checked, the detail states that the actual dates are unknown. This is because the Tibetans have never allowed Archaelogical digs in Tibet, so no accurate field dates can be established. The assumption was that as dZi is connected with Tibetan Buddhism, then the beads are tied in around the same date that Buddhism started.
In fact it is widely understood, certainly by the Tibetans, that dZi was part of the Bonpo tradition which preceded Buddhism in Tibet and goes back 4000 years or more, and some of the oldest dZi like Phum dZi is believed to have come from this time. I have been told that the Bon Chiefs used to wear them on their ceremonial robes and when they died they were cremated in their ceremonial regalia, and the remains buried. This mainly conjecture and cannot be proved, but it would explain why dZi beads are often found in the ground and why so many are found blemished, burnt or broken, as the heat from the pyre would have been very likely to damage the beads.
This is not to be confused with chips in the beads, which could be accidental as agate is a hard, but brittle stone, but can also be deliberate. A conversation with a Tibetan from Lhasa revealed that beads were deliberately chipped either as medicinal or religious offerings which is widely known, or to include as part of a burial offering on the death of the previous owner, which is perhaps not so well known. Therefore beads with small chips in them generally do not affect the value of the beads, and indeed can even be seen as desirable, especially if it was for medicinal purposes, as the bead would be deemed to have an intrinsic power to be chosen for such a purpose.
There is another desirable feature to be found in dZi beads known as Blood Spots or Cinnabar spots, probably caused by particles of iron oxidising within the stone, also known as Martik to the Tibetans, to whom these spots have great significance.
Blood spots or Martik
As to questions about the power of the beads this is a very subjective matter, and I personally do not believe that they have any intrinsic power specifically bestowed by any Gods or supernatural powers that be, as some Tibetans do, but having said that, I always wear them for protection when I am travelling. However, I believe in the power of the mind, and quantum physics tells us that the universe only exists as we percieve it because of our beliefs, and those beliefs actually affect how the atoms behave and interact with us. Therefore the beads could potentially contain the power that has been bestowed upon them by many previous generations, and retained in the atoms of the stone and benefit subsequent wearers. So the older the bead and the more people who have held beliefs in a bead's ability to protect them, the more powerful the bead becomes. So maybe it is a mixture of both natural science and belief, working side by side. Then new beads will have very little, if any, power at all, and none of it protective. Beads that have been deliberately faked to look old might even contain negative energies. This is all very much conjecture, and everybody will have their own idea based on their own system of belief.
HOW WAS DZI MADE?
The great mystery of old dZi and etched carnelians is how they managed to get the markings on the surface without breaking or cracking the stone. The Silica family, of which chalcedony, agate and carnelian are a part, is particularly suseptible to heat, which will crack or even shatter the stone. The technique of how to heat it without damaging it was only discovered in recent times, using sophisticated technology which entails heating the stone in a vacuum. As agate is porous, there is air and moisture within the stone which when heated, expands and causes it to crack. In a vacuum the air has been removed so greatly reduces the chance of the stone cracking when heated. This technology was not around 100 years ago in remote Tibet, nor indeed was it around many of thousands of years ago, hence the mystery of how they were made.
HOW TO SPOT CERTAIN KINDS OF FAKES
The most obvious sign of true ageing are the tiny, natural, circular cracks or blemishes that appear on the surface of the bead to a greater or lesser degree depending of the density of the stone and its age. Beads that have been buried a long time will show this effect (see below), probably due to water getting in and then expanding and contracting due to freezing in the seasonal changes of the climate.
Wear around hole and authentic circular ageing marks.
Authentic circular ageing marks
Faked circular ageing marks
Early faking with artificial ageing. This was done by running the bead through a special roller.
Note that the circles are all the same size.
A lot of the modern copies also have these circular markings on them which are artifically created and the key to telling the difference between the modern and the old is to inspect the cracks with a 10 x loup or magnifying glass. On the original beads the circular cracks are worn, and have a rounded edge to them where the crack goes into the stone, usually from being worn for millenia. The modern ones tend to have a sharp more squared edge to them where the stone's surface has been ground and polished after the ageing effect has been applied to create the effect of wear. See cross section diag. below.
Also the holes each end where the string goes are not worn or smooth and usually show a roughness. See the images below that illustrate this.The circular ageing marks are now being applied to modern unetched beads as in the case of these Sulemani agates below and the close-ups above. Many thanks to Roger Casas for supplying me with the pictures. These are all new beads made to look old.
Modern faked Sulemani agate beads
Unworn holes of modern fakes
Old holes with wear from other beads rubbing against each other
Also a lot of the modern copies are too smoothly and perfectly formed, whereas old beads have natural dinks and chips that have been worn smooth over time to give an unfakeable effect.
Old Beads showing natural wear
Certain kinds of agate do not always show this ageing, agate that is very dense in its structure, and therefore the surface is less porous and less likely to be affected by this kind of age wear. Also, if a bead has not been buried but has always been worn and not exposed to climate extremes, would probably not show this type of ageing, as in the case of the bead from the Afghanistan area below.
Old agate C. 500 AD without circular age marks
It is not only the Silica family that shows these ageing marks as the following picture of a Sarcen limestone from the stone circle at Avebury, in the UK shows. These stones date back to 2500BC, and again it is probably seasonal climate changes that are responsible for the markings, as the stone from which they are made is porous too. It has been suggested that these marks may be made by fossils, which could be possible, but a close inspection of them did not reveal anything of a fossilised nature. Indeed they are so similar to the markings on the beads, to convince me that they are caused by similar natural processes.
Circular marks on the Sarcen Stones at Avebury
HOW ORIGINAL PURE GZI/DZI WAS MADE
Many people have speculated as to how the original dZi was etched, as the modern technology heating the beads in a vacuum chamber was not available in those times. One plausible theory was that the stones were heated at a extremely high altitude where the air is so thin that expansion is minimal. As Tibet is the highest country on the planet this gives some credence to this theory. This does not explain how the Indus valley culture etched carnelians though, as this is not at altitude. However with the market flooded with huge quantities of replica and duplicate beads it seems very unlikely that all, if any, of these so called antique and middle period beads were made this way. I have also heard that the beads were encased in clay and then baked, but I do not know how much validity to give to this.
The process how of how the markings were etched into the pure dZi stones is fascinating. After the bead had been shaped, it was coated in Natron, known more correctly as Hydrous Sodium Carbonate, and then baked which turned the stone whitish. The pattern of the eyes and lines were marked out in molten wax and once the wax had hardened, the beads were left to soak in a sugar water or chemical solution for some days until the solution had penetrated into the surface of the parts of the stone where it had not been covered in the wax. The stone was then baked again, burning the sugar within the stone and turning it the familiar brown colour of most pure dZi. This method was somewhat hit and miss as the density of agate varied greatly, allowing more or less of the solution to penetrate, giving rise to variations in the depth of colour of the markings, a problem still happening today with the modern copies, many of which have this mottled effect on the pattern. Other chemicals were also used creating different colours, mostly this can be seen on the striped Chung dZi, which comes in a variety of different colours. One can only speculate about the techniques and materials used to achieve this.
One of the best ways to tell if you are being sold a fake is the price. Pure dZi with anything from one to nine eyes are worth from US$10,000 up to $250,000 or even more depending on the quality and condition, so any so-called "pure" eyed dZi you see on ebay for example, with a $10- $1000 price tag is a modern fake, that the vendor may or may not know is real............... there are some unscrupulous dealers or just plain fools around!
Chung dZi, or lesser dZi, has such a huge variety of shapes, sizes and designs, from plain natural carnelian or striped agate, to huge beads with many etched lines and patterns, consequently they have a huge range of values, although you can pick up nice old, unetched beads for as little as $40, or much less if you go to India, Nepal, or Tibet and you know where to look.
The pictures on this site give the approximate values of various kinds of beads. See the links at the top of this page or click here.
This site has been produced for informational purposes. I am a collector, not a dealer, and my beads are not for sale, although under certain circumstances I do take on the occasional commission when I make trips to India during the Winter months. Sometimes I also have a small number of beads surplus to requirements. Contact me by clicking here.
Please do not contact me to ask if your $200 pure, dragon vein dZi, blessed by a Lama is real....... sorry but it isn't. :o)
In the About Me section there are also many photos of the areas in India where I search for beads. I have also added some beautiful pictures of Tibet.
If anybody wishes to make a referral to my website please contact me first, so that I may reciprocate.