Opalized Palmwood: Pumtek meaning “buried thunderbolt” are important heirloom beads among the Chin, who live in the Chin Hills of western Myanmar (formerly Burma).
“Composition and Manufacture
Pumtek beads are composed from fossil palmwood, that is a variety of non-precious opal (unlike many fossil woods that have become agatized). It is correct to say they are “fossil wood,” “fossil palmwood,” opalized wood,” and “petrified wood.” The opalization of palmwood (or any wood) is a petrification (though it is different from agatization). This is not complicated stuff. The problem lies, in part, with the suggestion that not ALL pumtek beads derive from palmwood. It has been suggested by a mineralogist friend of mine that other fossil wood has been used as well in the manufacture of some pumtek beads.
It has been said that production stopped due to government intervention (“forever”) about four or five years ago.”
David was the first one to announce that the material was opalized fossil palm wood (as determined by the Smithsonian). However, even he was not certain of this because he’s not a mineralogist, and only knew opal as the colorful gem most people would think of—that pumtek beads are assuredly NOT made from. I was misled by the appearance of the material, and for a while thought it was something like vegetable ivory. However, once I realized that pumtek beads were much too hard to be that stuff, I understood it was a mineral with an organic origin. So, fossil palm wood made good sense.
The material comes from the region of western Burma (not far from India)—where there is definitely a LOT of fossil palm wood available for exploitation. (I know this because Mark Kenoyer, who grew up in this region—in Nagaland—collected specimens as a young boy, and has so-assured me, and gave me a piece he collected.) But if palm trees have been fossilized and converted to opal, I suppose any trees and other plants in the area might also be so-transformed. So, even if the vast majority of pumtek beads are opalized palm wood, this doesn’t mean there are no exceptions.
Then, we also should not expect every specimen to reveal the same degree of grain. From some parts of the tree, the pores may have been larger and more visible than in other parts of the wood. (For instance the inner wood versus the outer wood.) Or perhaps younger trees had smaller pores/grain. Perhaps some of the wood rotted and lost its precise structure prior to opalization. There are any number of reasons why some beads will show the classic grain of fossil/opalized palm wood, and others might not.
“Burmese beads include Pumteks (which means ‘buried thunderbolt’) and Pyu period beads (800 BCE – 200 CE), as well as some more contemporary items.
“Pumtek were made from opalized palmwood about 1500-2000 years ago and etched in various distinctive patterns. As with dZi beads, no one is sure of the exact process by which the beads were etched. Collectors look for unusual patterns and good contrast. Newer ‘Pums’ are from the beginning of this century when the supply of the ancient beads fell behind the demand. These copies were made from petrified or ‘silicate’ (but not opalized) palm wood, and are also collected. These are a good way to start a collection before jumping into the older (more expensive) Pumteks. ” Matt – Tiger Tiger
See our PUMTEKS FOR SALE http://www.globalbeads.com/shop/category/old-world/southern-asia/pumtek/” title=”PUMTEKS FOR SALE”></a></