Beads and beadwork were an important part of Native American wardrobe. Native American tribes would fashion beads from various natural elements. They would create bracelets, necklaces, earrings, rings, pins and many other types of jewelry from beads.
The kinds of beads created all depended upon the geographic location of the tribe, as well as that individual tribe’s culture. Although each tribe had its own way of creating beads and specific materials that were used as beads, the main forms of materials were virtually the same. The Native Americans would use resources such as bone, shell, wood, stones, etc.
Another staple of Native American Jewelry was quillwork. In quillwork, Porcupine quills would be embroidered into clothing, accessories, etc. that had been crafted from hides. The quillwork was primarily a form of embellishment for the materials. The quills could be dyed before they were added to the hides for further embellishment characteristics. Beads were often incorporated into the quillwork as well. Beads were also added to apparel, so they were not strictly used in jewelry making.
In the Northeastern Woodlands, Native American tribes used wampum beads in their jewelry. They often crafted bead bracelets and bead necklaces from shells. Wampum were long cylindrical beads created from the channel whelk shell and clamshells. Northeastern Native Americans also created pendants from local shells. They would carve the shells into the shape of different animals.
Bone was a common material used in bead making by the Native American tribes of the Great Plains. The bones could be cut into long cylindrical beads called hair pipes. Beads made from bone were very popular for use in creating chokers, breastplates, necklaces, and earrings. Examples of these types of jewelry made from bone can be seen in country-western movies. The people of the Great Plains were also introduced to metal jewelry by traders. After some time, the tribes learned metalworking and would create their own metal bracelets.
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