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.

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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.

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