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How this rare Luzerne County bead blends history with technology

August 23, 2016

Filed under Anthropology and Archaeology, Archaeology Collections, Collections, Pennsylvania Treasures

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In the early 1980s, Emanco Inc. archaeologists recovered a glass bead, three gunflints and two musket balls from the Gould Island site in Luzerne County, Pa. Most unusual was the discovery of this blue-and-white glass bead. On one side, the artifact depicts symbols of a man-in-the-moon and two stars. The reverse side features a shooting star or comet bounded by two stars. The 4-centimeter diameter bead has a uniformly-made suspension hole that runs through the center and terminates at two flattened edges. This bead type, the design of which may be Moorish in origin, is believed to have been made within the bead factories of Venice.

The bead shows vestigial impressions made with the use of wire-mandrel wound technology. Indicative of the late 17th- to mid-18th century, this method involves melting a rod of glass onto a revolving mandrel of straightened wire. The accumulated blob of glass is then pressed flat, forming the disk-shaped bead.

Though rare, Man-In-The-Moon beads have been found in other parts of eastern North America and likely spread across the nation through the French trade. Other beads depicting these symbols have been recovered from regions bordering British, Dutch and Spanish territories in the southeast and parts of the western Great Lakes region. In all cases, the beads conform to stereotypic variations of the moon face profile and star/shooting star symbols.

Perhaps the discovery of this rare object provides new meaning to the old nursery rhyme:

“The man in the moon came tumbling down
And asked his way to Norwich;
He went by the south and burnt his mouth
With supping cold pease porridge”

– Author unknown

This Pennsylvania Treasure was written by James T. Herbstritt, Archaeology Section, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.