Great Story Beads (also known as "Big History Beads") are a symbolic representation of the 13.7 billion year epic of Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity, told as a meaningful story that embraces all other stories — including one's own personal journey.    

Introducing Great Story Beads

Their Purpose and Potential

Choosing Events to Commemorate

Choosing a Timeline


Examples of Strung Beads


Selecting and Stringing Beads homepage

Introducing Great Story Beads
for both secular and spiritual/religious teaching and enjoyment

VIDEO: Introducing the project



Variously called "Earth Prayer Beads" (Sister Gail Worcelo), "Universe Story Rosary or Necklace" (Paula Hendrick), "Cosmic Rosary" (Sharon Abercrombie), "Great Story Beads" (Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd), "Cosmala" (Jon Cleland-Host), or "Big History Beads" (2012 naming at International Big History Association inaugural conference): all are strung beads that commemorate key events in the 13.7 billion year Epic of Evolution are a fun and meaningful way to:

♦ teach and learn our shared, scientifically accurate STORY OF CREATION

♦ experience one's own PERSONAL LIFE STORY as a segment of the larger story

In religious or spiritual contexts, Great Story Beads help participants:

♦ develop an appreciation for the Epic of Evolution as a SACRED NARRATIVE

♦ create a lasting product that can be used for SPIRITUAL REFLECTION and celebratory wearing

♦ nurture a sense of BELONGING and LOVE for the Cosmos, in all it vastness

♦ experience a new sense of ANCESTRY and family history that stretches back to the beginnings of time

    LEFT: part of Connie Barlow's Great Story Beads, which she strung on her 50th birthday (April 2002) after several weeks of preparation and shopping at two beads shops in Nyack NY, near her then-home in New City NY.

LEARN ABOUT THE ORIGINS of beads commemorating the Epic of Evolution in two articles by journalist Sharon Abercrombie:

  • "Cosmic Rosary", EarthLight Magazine, Summer 2002

  • "Rosaries Focus on Sacred Creation", National Catholic Reporter, 13 December 2002

  •     Four old friends (long-time contributors to "Epic of Evolution" awareness and creativity") wear their Great Story Beads in 2012 at the inaugural conference of the International Big History Association, in Grand Rapids (Michigan). Left to right: Cathy Russell, Jon Cleland-Host, Connie Barlow, and Michael Dowd. All four gave presentations at the conference. Jon's illustrated talk was titled, "Big History Beads: A Flexible Pedagogical Method."

        UC Berkeley geologist Walter Alvarez, co-discoverer in 1980 of the meteor-impact theory of the dinosaur extinctions, signs Jon Cleland-Host's dinosaur-extinction bead (65 mya) at the inaugural Big History conference.
        VIDEO: Connie Barlow tells the story of Great Story Beads at a Unitarian Universalist church service in Santa Fe, 2014 (4 mins).

    Their Purpose and Potential

        The purpose of choosing and stringing beads that mark highlights in the actual story of the Universe is to help participants experience wonder and a sense of real belonging in the vast cosmos and the adventure of life. The "Great Story Beads" form of this activity specifically includes opportunities for participants to commemorate important events in their own life and family history, thus ensuring that they see their peronal story as an integral part of the larger story — and that they themselves are an expression of the Universe.

    Connie Barlow has posted "Stories of Awakening" to the Epic of Evolution, including 7 stories of how Great Story Beads have inspired both children and adults. In one of those stories, Jon Cleland-Host spoke of his beads-stringing experience:

    "To peruse my beads or think about any of the time periods of the past — the struggles, the grandeur, the creatures, the massive explosions, the drama, and so much more — fills me with so much more amazement than any theatre movie can."

    Choosing Events to Commemorate

        LEFT: The most detailed Great Story Beads constructed thus far are probably those of two adult males: Michael Dowd (2002) and Jon Cleland-Host (2009) each selected more than 200 events to commemorate. Click on Examples of Strung Beads for learning more.

    Teachers working with young children, of course, will want to offer far fewer events, expressed via 10 to 20 beads.

    Connie Barlow has heard several older women speak of celebrating the birthday of a grand-daughter by taking her to a bead shop each year and selecting new beads to add to the necklace, commemorating important episodes in the child's life during the past year as well as additional historical events she may have learned about via school, television, the internet, or reading on her own.

    If you want to be able to easily add to your beads loop or necklace periodically, make sure you incorporate bead linkages that can easily be dis- and re-assembled. Talk to the beads store owner about possibilities.

    Also, be sure to choose a stringing material appropriate to the age group and anticipated situations. Connie Barlow chose 17-strand braided steel wire to ensure strength with flexibility, as she planned to show her beads in a lot of adult and child settings (thus staving off breakage if children become a bit exuberant in handling the beads. (Even so, in its 6th year of use, one of the sharper beads had managed to cut right through the steel thread, thus necessitating repairs.) In contrast, Jon Clelan-Host chose 15-pound test hemp cord, as he has three young boys at home and is concerned that the steel variety could cause injury (or strangulation).

    Choosing a Timeline

  • Detailed (colloquial language; not time proportional) by Barlow and Dowd

  • Detailed (scientifically technical; time proportional) - by Jon Cleland-Host

  • Time Spirals 2D and 3D superb teaching tools by Karen Kudebeh (14-min video)

  • "My Universe Story" 28 events for KIDS by Connie Barlow

  • 28 events for adults - by Paula Hendrick - 17 events for KIDS

  • Diverse kinds - various timelines associated with The Cosmic Walk

  • 43-event time proportional - by Janet Williamson

  • Wikipedia version - by Wikipedia

  • Timeline Playmat for Kids - by Charlie's Playhouse

  • "The Universe Story" timeline - beads component of Spirit Play curriculum

  • Simplest timeline for young kids - by Leslie Klein Pilder (scroll to last 5 pages)

  • 15 events in ritual format (Barlow) "The Great Journey"

  • illustrated 65 million-year story of North America (by Barlow)

  • 40 junctures since origin of life - based on Richard Dawkins' Ancestor's Tale

  • Online interactive professional 4.5 billion year timeline - PBS "Evolution" series

  • Geologist Walter Alvarez initiated this ChronoZoom interactive, digital timeline.

  • Stone-Age Institute's brilliant 100 most important events to humans


    LEFT: Children wearing Great Story Beads they created at a Montessori school in Minneapolis, following an instructional program that Connie Barlow presented there.

    BELOW: a segment of Connie Barlow's "Coming Home to North America" beads (Pleistocene Ice Age is bead furthest right)

    Introducing Great Story Beads

    Their Purpose and Potential

    Choosing Events to Commemorate

    Choosing a Timeline


    Examples of Strung Beads


    Selecting and Stringing Beads homepage


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