In the last weeks of Florida Archaeology Month, let’s talk beads. Beads are an important part of Native American cultures. The size, shape, color, and material of beads denotes status in many native cultures. Early beads found in Florida and the greater Eastern coastal region were made from clay, bone and shell. Clay and bone beadswere the easiest to make and became the most abundant. However, beads from the quahog clam, wampum, was also popular on the Eastern coast. The mostly white shell of the quahog has shades of light to deep purple around its edges; the amount of purple varies from shell to shell, making the color rarer and worth twice the amount of white wampum. Purple wampum designated their wearer as powerful, wealthy, and important in the community.
White Wampum, Interior of Quahog Shell, Purple Wampum
In 1527, Spanish explorers with Pánfilo de Narváez introduced European glass beads to Florida. At this time, Venetian glass makers had a monopoly on glass beads and were almost the exclusive makers for the European market. Many of these early glass beads have not survived to today. Instead, the easier to make seed bead that was popularized in the 1800s, became in demand as Native American women finely tuned their bead-working craft. The small seed bead can range in size from 1.5mm to 9mm. They are utilized for both loom and off-loom weaving in the creation of garments, bags, belts and other accessories.
An assortment of colored seed beads
Guests to the Osceola County Welcome Center and History Museum have the opportunity to view both early Native American beadwork from the region, as well as our collection of Seminole artifacts including beaded bags and belts.
Seminole beaded bag Clay and stone bracelet
While Florida Archaeology Month draws to a close, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn more about the vital role archaeologists play in digging up our region’s past. Bring the kids and join us Wednesday, May 10th from 5 to 6 pm for Archaeology Night at the Museum. Our guests from Florida Public Archaeology Network will be giving a hands-on demonstration of how archaeologists use pottery to learn about the people of the past.
Sources: Eddins, O. 2017 “History of Trade Beads”. Peach State Archaeological Society.