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Beads - Small spheres or cylinders with a hole, which were strung on threads or attached to fabrics.  Before the colonists brought over glass and porcelain beads, almost every tribe of Indians used some form of this decoration.  Beads were made from many kinds of mineral substances, including quartz, turquoise, soapstone, and copper; from the stems and roots of plants; from nuts and berries; shell, bone, horn, teeth, and claws of animals; and even the beaks of some birds, and claws of eagles and hawks.  The Eskimo used walrus ivory and teeth of various animals.  In Virginia a cheap kind of bead, called roanoke, was made from the clamshell.  The claws of the bear and teeth of the elk were highly prized.

Beads were worn in the hair as a decoration or hung in strings from the ears, on the neck, arms, wrists, waist, and lower limbs.  They were attached to bark, wood, or buckskin; were woven into belts; and were used to cover leggings, headdresses, moccasins, and other articles of dress.  As ceremonial pledges, or wampum, they were used in councils of war and peace, also as money.  In many instances vast quantities were buried with the dead.

In the early part of the last century a large china bead call the "pony bead" was popular among the Plains Indians.  It was made in Venice, italy, and was known as the pony bead because it was brought overland by pony pack trains.  This bead was about twice the size of the "seed bead" which was introduced later, in 1840.  The pony beads were first used on bands to decorate skin robes, shirts, pipe bags, cradles, saddlebags, moccasins, and the headbands on war bonnets.  The seed bead was used for finer work and soon the pony bead disappeared from use.  About 1870 the translucent beads became popular with the Indians, and fifteen years later they worked with glass beads. which were colored silver or gilt and cut with facets.

The great period of Indian beadwork flourished between 1860 and 1900.  Experts on beadwork can tell the date when an article was made by the type of beads used as well as by the coloring of some of the beads.  many Plains Indians made a long tubular bone bead which was used on breastplates, and which traders duplicated and termed "hair pipes."

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[ Quiver ][ Roanoke ][ Sinew ][ Wampum ][ Women ]