Chevron Striped Trade Beads
28" strand; 3/8" diameter, varied.
Columbian Exchange; Native American Trade; Venetian Glass Beads
Mrs. Polly Stone, 1971
*Venetian Chevron beads have been produced since the 1400s
January’s first artifact ambassador told the story of Native Americans’ use of materials in their surroundings to produce their tools and ornaments. The story continues with the advent of Europeans on the American continent, which touched off a cultural exchange as these explorers brought their traditions and goods with them. Natives valued Europe’s trade goods, such as iron, glass, and cloth, which were more durable and easier to procure through trade than their own materials.
One of the earliest and longest-lived trade goods was glass beads which were first brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Our second artifact ambassador is a string of Venetian trade beads which aptly tells the story. This type of “chevron” bead was produced by artisans in Vienna and brought to America as a trade item from 1500 through the 19th century. To many tribes, beads conveyed status and wealth due to the difficulty involved in their production. Trade beads quickly became incorporated into local cultures. Europeans who wished to exploit new sources of raw materials in America found a welcoming market for goods such as these, opening new opportunities to both the Europeans and indigenous Americans.
However, the interchange was also fraught with grave hazards. To the Europeans, the climate and dangers of the New World wilderness brought the early deaths of hundreds among those who ventured to lay claim to what they saw as their new sovereign realm. This only temporarily curbed the aspirations of Europeans who pressed on in pursuit of their goals on the American continent.
To those who had inhabited this continent for centuries, the Europeans posed an even greater threat as they brought with them diseases which indiscriminately conquered Native tribes in a warfare won by germs rather than weapons. The Europeans’ ardent claim of their right to exploit this new territory also led to the beginning of the long process by which the Natives lost their precious land and way of life. Although it started quietly, as the new arrivals gained a foothold and increased their strength, the pace quickened. Resistance often halted the advance, but the battle would continue as the new arrivals began to make the continent their own. Thus, these trade beads present a paradoxical story of progress and opportunity alongside foreboding danger.
Stay tuned for our next Artifact Ambassador!