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  • Place of origin:

    South Africa (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1870-1880 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ostrich eggshell beads spaced with discs of hide

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Hugh Exton

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Beads made from ostrich eggshell are amongst the earliest known examples of African jewellery. They are made by the indigenous peoples of the Kalahari Desert, which spans areas of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. These peoples are sometimes called ‘Bushmen’ as they were traditionally hunter-gatherers but since the 1950s have increasingly turned to settled agriculture.

Making beads from ostrich eggshell is a time-consuming and intricate process. The eggshell is broken into small pieces which are tapped into a slightly rounded shape. A hole is then drilled through the centre of the bead before it is strung on a string (traditionally sinew, now nylon) so that the beads fit tightly together. In this example the beads have been separated using discs of hide. The beads are then rubbed with a brittle stone for a smooth rounded shape.

Physical description

Necklace formed of circular beads of ostrich eggshell alternating with discs of hide, strung together tightly.

Place of Origin

South Africa (made)


ca. 1870-1880 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Ostrich eggshell beads spaced with discs of hide


Length: 135 cm whole (untied) string

Object history note

Accessions register entry - 'Necklace. Composed of circular pieces of ostrich egg-shell, alternating with discs of hide, strung together. Worn by the Bushmen of South Africa. Modern African
Given by Dr[?] Hugh Exton, Bloemfontein'
Displayed in "V and A Africa: Exploring Hidden Histories"
15th November 2012- 3rd February 2013

A Wikipedia entry accessed 24 March 2018 records that Hugh Exton (1833-1903), F.G.S., was a physician, anthropologist, geologist and collector. He was President of the South African Geological Society from its founding in 1895. He married Jacomina Hendrina van der Poel. Their son, Hugh Exton (1864-1955) was a noted photographer whose glass slides are preserved at the Hugh Exton Photographic Museum, Pietersburg.

Descriptive line

Necklace of ostrich egg-shell beads spaced with discs of hide, South Africa, ca.1870-1880


Egg-shell; Hide


Africa; Jewellery


Metalwork Collection

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