Great Story 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.    

Scroll down to peruse 9 EXAMPLES of STRUNG BEADS, or access by name/topic:

CONNIE BARLOW (175 beads)     MICHAEL DOWD (270 beads)     JON CLELAND-HOST ("Cosmala")

PAULA HENDRICK (25 beads)     JANET WILLIAMSON (time proportional)    

JAN ROSS (for children)     BENJAMIN STALLINGS (time proportional)

KYLE BAGNALL (Michigan prehistory)     CONNIE BARLOW (North America)    

  • Home-made beads from Sculpey Clay

        Tina Rataj, a student at Edgewood College (Madison WI) made and strung her own beads (photos left) while participating in the "The Universe Story" honors class taught by Jim Lorman and Paula Hirschboeck. Tina explains the process:
    "Making beads of your own is very simple. These were made with sculpey clay, which comes in a variety of colors and can be found in most art supply or craft stores. After shaping your bead make a hole through it with either a toothpick or skewer. Bake at exactly 275 degrees F on a foil-lined cookie sheet for 15 minutes. Do not handle beads until cool because they can break. Be creative and have fun.

    More info on baking sculpey beads at:

  • Purchased v. Home-made Beads

        Jan Ross (religious education director at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church in Goleta CA) creates in advance some beads from sculpey clay — such as the "Sun" bead (left), while purchasing other beads (Star beads). An evolutionary beads project is now a standard part of that church's elementary-age curriculum every third year.

    Right: Close-up of 3 sculpey beads Jan made — Sun, Earth, and "Future" bead (red, with question mark).


  • Beads from Found Objects

        Jon Cleland-Host (left) cut off the head of a small plastic dinosaur and drilled a hole through it to use in his "Cosmala" string of beads.

    Connie Barlow (right) chose a seashell with a hole in it to signify the Cambrian Explosion of shelly creatures. To its left is a clear crystal bead, signifying the evolution of the first animal eyes (trilobites). Notice also the "bamboo" bead, signifying the invention of lignin (wood) by plants, thus making possible the first forests.


    Examples of Strung Beads

       CONNIE BARLOW and her beads (left) and MICHAEL DOWD and his beads (right), 2002.

    Click for the annotated and story-form TIMELINE that they used (175 events chosen by Connie; 270 chosen by Michael). Adults, youth, and teachers can peruse this extensive timeline to decide which events they wish to celebrate in beads. For example, Jan Ross perused this timeline and then selected just 28 events for children in her religious education class to use in constructing their "Earth Story Beads."


       JON CLELAND-HOST (left) constructed his detailed and time-proportional "Cosmala" in 2009. Some beads were purchased and others he made (e.g., fish-to-amphibian ancestor "Tiktaalik" and "Pangaea" supercontinent, both at left).

    You can (control+click) download Jon's TIMELINE (in PDF). It is the most scientifically detailed timeline that anyone has yet offered for the beads project. It includes a total of 280 events. Make sure you also download in pdf Jon's report and instructions for using his timeline and/or making a set of Cosmala beads.


    BELOW: Jon presenting on "Big History Beads" in 2012 at the inaugural conference of the International Big History Association. Earlier at the conference, Jon invited geologist Walter Alvarez (co-discoverer in 1980 of the meteor-impact theory of dinosaur extinction) to sign his dinosaur-extinction bead. Far right is the signed bead.


    PAULA HENDRICK (of Seattle WA) was one of the first (in 2001) to create a necklace celebrating our evolutionary journey. She calls hers "Universe Story Necklace/Prayer Beads". Paula writes,

    "Creating your own timeline as you study the Universe Story is a great way to anchor your learning. Better yet, convene a study circle and make your necklaces together. Choose perhaps 25 events to mark, each with a special bead; correlate each with a date or a time span."

    Paula provides simple instructions for materials and assembly.

    Her report includes a Sample Timeline and also a shorter Timeline for Children.


       JANET WILLIAMSON (of Tulsa, Oklahoma) has made several strings of Great Story Beads. The top short string in the photo at left entails 13 beads in 1-billion-year increments, with the last bead (orange) representing still-unicellular life. The lower string illustrates the Epic of Evolution in our solar system in 100 million year increments, beginning 5 billion years ago. Click to view/download the complete timelines for these bead strings.

    Right: Janet illustrates the time increments of different strings of beads for the youth group at All Souls Unitarian Church, Tulsa OK (2010). Next the teens will select beads and create their own time sequences.


    JAN ROSS (right) is the Director of Religious Education at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church in Goleta, California. Every third year the kids study "Science and Myth" as the theme, and making "Earth Story Beads" is the culmination of the year. Jan sets out bowls of beads station by station: a bowl of "Big Bang" beads, then another bowl for "Galaxies", and so on. (Scroll up near top to the photo with yellow post-its marking bowls for "Stars" and "Sun.") Older children have 27 events/beads on their list; younger kids have 23 (with simpler descriptions). Click to access more photos and LESSON PLAN CURRICULUM for teachers to use this story and craft activity in the secular or progressive religious classroom.   

        BENJAMIN STALLINGS split his set of Great Story Beads into 7 distinct strands in order to use proportional spacing between the events.

        KYLE BAGNALL, Manager of Historical Programs at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland MI, was inspired to create a string of colored beads to represent 35,000 years of Michigan history — beginning with the most recent glacial advance.

    Each bead signifies 50 years, with blue beads representing ice coverage of Michigan, red the Paleo-Indians, orange the Archaic Indians, green Woodland Indians, a single metal bead for 1492, and scarlet for post-1492.

    Click to learn more about these Michigan prehistory beads.

    "Beaded Creation Story" Workshop

    JANE STOFFER (Salem, Ohio) offers workshops for creating one's own Great Story Beads.

    Click to view a brochure of Jane Stoffer's Workshop.

    CONNIE BARLOW assembled a subset of the Epic of Evolution: just the last 65 million years of geological, life, and climatic history that shaped North America. The 74 beads were ordered to enable her to use this lovely tool as a memory aid for telling extemporaneously (and with charts and playful participation) this vital episode of the Epic of Evolution to classrooms of children: Connie's North America programs for kids and adults. Click to view photo-essay and TIMELINE for assembling North America Beads.    

    ABOVE: Segment of NORTH AMERICA beads: The Pliocene epoch (purple spacer beads) includes a momentous event in American history: the rise of the Isthmus of Panama, connecting South America to North America for the first time in more than 70 million years. The event is both a crisis and opportunity (red and sparkle bead). Now bears and deer and wolves and cats can expand their range southward, while porcupines, possums, armadillos, and giant ground sloths expand north. This "Great American Interchange" ultimately results in the extinction (black bead) of many large South American mammals, brought down either by disease or competition with the new immigrants from the North. Two million years ago, the Pliocene ends, and the Pleistocene (white spacer beads) begins, ushering in the continental glaciers of the Ice Age.

    Introducing Great Story Beads

    Their Purpose and Potential

    Choosing Events to Commemorate

    Choosing a Timeline


    Examples of Strung Beads


    Selecting and Stringing Beads homepage

    You may download, print, and use any and all of these resources, without seeking permission, for all purposes other than publication. (Contact us if you wish to include them in a book or magazine.) And please hotlink our site to yours.

      CLICK to access the programs that Connie Barlow leads
    when she is guest teaching in schools and churches.