Beads have a history with the Native American people
Native American beads have existed for centuries. There's a general misconception that they only began using these pieces when European settlers arrived, when in actuality they used them prior to their arrival. They based their entire trade system on these beads and what they symbolized for each tribe. Many of them were made out of materials that the tribe had on hand.
The value of a bead was based on the scarcity of the product. Some popular materials included turquoise, copper, silver, coral, shells, amber and wood. They also used products made from animals such as teeth, horns, carved bones and ivory. Each tribe determined the worth of each piece based on the material and size. Some were worth more to other tribes simply because they didn't have access to the same products. For example, beads made from shells were worth more to tribes located in the Plains area because they didn't have access to those shells.
Resources on the topic include:
- Native American Beadwork: retailer specializing in traditional clothing and jewelry made with beads.
- Bead Weaving Techniques and Analysis: focuses on how Native American people wove together beads.
- Native American Beadwork: provides resources on better understanding how they used beads and in what ways.
- History, Cultural Value of Beads: discusses what different beads meant to the tribes and European settlers.
- Native American Beadwork Techniques: examines the techniques used by tribes in weaving together beads and fabrics.
The arrival of European settlers caused changes in the value of these pieces. The men brought along glass beads that were worth more to the Indians because they had never seen them before. They also changed the value by introducing the idea of wampum, which were essentially beads strung together on different pieces of material. The length of each piece determined its value.
The use of wampum eventually died out because its rarity disappeared. It was traded so frequently and easily that it didn't have any worth. There were also settlers bringing in fake beads and passing them off as the real thing or creating fake wampum, which was essentially worthless. Though it was worthless at one point, many of these pieces are worth quite a bit of money today.
- Arctic Region
- Subarctic Region
- California Region
- Northeast Woodlands Region
- Great Basin Region
- Plateau Region
- Northwest Coast Region
- Plains Region
- Southeast Region
- Southwest Region
- Alpha Tribal Listing
- State Tribal Listing