I was reading a few bead books yesterday and I learned that African trade beads were made in Europe and carried to Africa to trade for all types of products: food, clothing, dyes, people, and other cargo. They were made in Europe from glass and they were highly prized.
The Taureg people made beads from silver that were intricate and favored a five point cross symbolizing their faith. You can still see women swathed in various beaded necklaces of glass beads and silver. This forms a dowry that can be used in trade for goods and symbolizes a woman's wealth.
Sometimes beads were made from cattle bones and dyes were used to create intricate designs. Seeds and fruit pits can also make a fine bead.
Beads have been worn for thousands of years and I bet the earlier wearers would be staggered by the colors and materials that make up our beads today. I can find beads made from everything from acrylic to bone, leather to gemstones, pearls to crystals at my two local beadshops here in the Olympia area of Washington: Shipwreck Beads and Unique Beads. Online, I have even more choice atstores like Cathy Dailey, FireMountain Gems, Lima Beads, and handcrafted at various fine shops on Etsy.
If we look at our bead stashes and the availability of beautiful beads - we are wealthy indeed.