These are spindle whorl beads. Here is the description of them.
These come from ancient Mopti-Djenne (Niger and Bani River area). Reports coming from the 1300s say that one could not speak in a normal tone due to the noise of the weavers' looms at Djenne during the time of the great King Sundjata. There are written comments dating to the early 1400s about Djenne and the great number of weavers there. Although often collected and strung as beads, these were originally spindle whorls used to help spin thread. Made of clay and stone and incised with geometrical patterns, they are recognizable by their enlarged central hole. Recent excavation in the old city of Jenne-Jeno, near the modern town of Jenne, show these whorls to have been used at least since AD 1000.
I got these in an auction. I’ve been looking at similar beads and finally decided to go for it. I didn’t realize how big they were. Of course I should have paid attention to the description that stated they were "HUGE". They came in a large box and I thought…”Oh how nice, the company really took a lot of care in packing them".
I pulled out all the packing paper and finally got down to the package of beads...the size of a dictionary....like the ones they have in libraries.....the ones that weight like 20 lbs. Well, I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. These ARE huge. These are "one bead to a necklace" type of beads. Otherwise you'll end up with a dowager hump.
I told you they were HUGE!!! HA!! But they are awesome. I made some bronze end caps with a mud cloth decoration on them to go with them.
I ran across a link to a pictorial on The Making of Modern Spindle Worls in Mali. It's really interesting and reminds me in many ways of working with metal clay...but on a much larger scale. Check it out. make sure you click on the arrows at the bottom of the pages so you see all the pictures from start to finish.