Cathy Russell’s personal “Cosmala”  tells the story of the Universe.  Made by wire wrapping, this set of beads can be easily modified as new information becomes available.


Evolution Beads are beautiful and fun ways to tell the story of the universe.  These are also known as “Big History Beads”, “Cosmala” or “Universe Story Beads.”

In this activity, students string together beads that represent major emergent events in the Epic of Evolution, from the Great Radiance (Big Bang) and the emergence of light, matter, galaxies, stars, planets, and life.  To give students a sense of belonging, additional beads are added to represent each person’s life, including those that symbolize immediate family, themselves, and their hopes and dreams for the future.

Kids of all ages love to create Evolution Beads because it’s fun to choose the beads and to learn about the story in a creative way.

Students aged 7 to adults can create a beautiful object that they can keep as a reminder of the major events of evolution and their life.
This hands-on activity is adapted from an activity presented by Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd at

Time: Although this activity can be done in one, rushed hour, it’s best to do this for half an hour spread over several days or even weeks.


Per Class:

  • Variety of beads. These may be purchased by the pound at craft shops.

Per person:

  • String (2 mm cord with built-in needle is ideal)
    • Optional: people may also use wire-wrapping techniques to put together beads. Although this is initially much more time-consuming, it has the advantage of allowing you to easily insert new beads as they become available.
  • Epic of Evolution Bead Guide (coming soon).


  • Give each student string and a timeline.
  • Have students select a bead to represent each of the events corresponding to the guide. Have them write down the type of bead they used in the blank space on the Bead Guide.
  • You may have the students string together beads in chronological order since the Great Radiance, or you may choose to work from the present time and work backwards. This has the advantage of students recognizing immediately that they are a part of the Epic.
  • If you have several days to do this activity, have students work in reverse chronological time, adding beads as follows:
    • Cenozoic
    • Mesozoic
    • Paleozoic
    • Precambrian
    • Great Radiance to emergence of life

For more information:

Great Story Beads – This has a comprehensive narrative of the major events in evolution, including many more culturally important events. Michael Dowd, one the authors of this site, has the most comprehensive sets of Great Story Beads in the universe.

Geologic time scale – Wikipedia’s excellent web-based time scale uses data from the International Commission on Stratigraphy and using the color codes of the US Geological Survey. This site contains timeline, brief history and useful links.

Cosmic Voyage – Illustrated timeline of the Epic of Evolution

TimeScale: An Atlas of the Fourth Dimension by Nigel Calder. This richly illustrated book depicts the progress of the universe through time. Although out of print, used copies are still available through