Bone beads have a long history on the African continent. Bone is one of several natural materials that have been available in Africa for millennia including wood, stone, and clay. Bone beads have been made throughout the African continent including East, West, and even South Africa. Historically, bone beads may be made from any number of bone sources including ivory from different kinds of animal tusks or antlers. Other natural materials similar to bone used to make beads include horn, ostrich eggshells, marine and freshwater seashells such as clams, and also coral. Bone is unique among bead making materials due to both its strength and because it can be carved by hand and polished into many different shapes and sizes. Bone is also relatively lighter than similar size beads made from glass or metal.
One of the best-known varieties of bone beads is the Mudcloth Bone Batik from East Africa. Kenya in particular is a major producer of Batik Bone Beads. These beads are usually made from Cow or Water Buffalo bone that is first bleached and then patterned. Patterning is achieved by a special method where wax is used to apply a dye based on any one of a number of traditional geometric patterns. These designs may include stripes, dots, swirls, and other decorative motifs. Because each bead is individually patterned, this gives each piece a unique flair. The variety of different Bone Batik design styles makes these beads a versatile addition to any bead or jewelry designer’s bead chest and adds a great natural touch to any project.