Ancient Mystery: How Were Original dZi Beads Made?
Knowledge of ancient dzi beads is derived from oral traditions. Few other beads have provoked more controversy concerning their source, and how they were created. This all gives rise to one of the most interesting and unique beads on earth.
Tibetans have never allowed Archaeological digs in Tibet, so no accurate field dates have been established. According to "The History Of Beads" by Lois Sherr Dubin, dZi is placed in the 700's AD alongside the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet. Her assumption is that dZi is connected with Tibetan Buddhism, so the beads are linked to the same date that Buddhism started.
There is a lot of speculation about how the original dZi was etched because the modern technology of heating beads in a vacuum chamber was not available at the time. One theory is the stones were heated at an extremely high altitude where the air is much thinner than lower altitudes resulting in less expansion. Tibet is the highest altitude country on the planet so this theory seems plausible.
Since dZi are typically made of agate and agate is porous, it contains air and moisture within the stone which, when heated, expands and causes the stone to crack. In a vacuum the air has been removed which greatly reduces the chance of cracking. This technology was not available 100 years ago in remote Tibet. It certainly was not around thousands of years ago, hence the mystery of how they were made.
The process of marking dZi stones is also interesting. After the bead was shaped, it was baked with sodium carbonate which gives the stone a white ashy look. Sodium carbonate is currently used in the manufacture of glass, paper, rayon, soaps, and detergents. The pattern of the eyes and lines were marked out in wax and when the wax hardened, the beads were soaked in a sugar or chemical solution until the solution had seeped into the porous surface of the stone where it had not been covered in wax. The stone was then baked again, burning the sugar within the stone and turning it a brown color.. This method was somewhat hit and miss as the density of agate varied greatly, allowing different amounts of the solution to penetrate. This gave rise to variations in the depth of color of the markings, a problem still happening today with the modern 'dZi' style beads.