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Items found in one place often are coveted in another place. As early as 2000 BCE lapis lazuli was obtained in northern Afghanistan and traded to Mesopotamia, present day Iraq. Later Indian carnelian and onyx also were traded west. Highly prized Mediterranean coral made its way east to India. The most convenient form for these items were beads. As empires grew the movement of these items became important trade networks.

According to Peter Francis there have been six truly global networks dominated by beads. The carnelian industry of India providing the world for 4000 -5000 years. The Mediterranean coral bead industry supplying Europe, West Africa and India. The eastern Mediterranean glass bead industry produced the first true glass beads and their beads were traded through the Roman and Islamic periods. The Indo-Pacific bead industry first made beads in southern India several centuries BC and in a succession of bead centers in Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, and finally in Sumatra. The Chinese glass bead industry exported to South East Asia about a thousand years ago, to East Africa, to the Americas with the Spanish and to Alaska with the Russians. Finally, the West European glass bead industry became significant as Europeans began to open up global trade routes after the great voyages of exploration.