NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art.

~Types of Jewelry and Ornaments in the Eastern Forests~

Neck Ornaments
Prehistoric Native American necklaces were made of shell, bone, teeth, claws, pottery and other natural materials. A traditional Penobscot necklace consists of deer antler prongs and deer hoofs bored and strung on leather. Pendants or bags, some containing tobacco, were suspended from necklaces. One curative necklace had a pouch containing tree frogs said to 'stop womenís overflowing courses.' Another necklace of fawns teeth helped teething children. Native Americans often hung bunches of deerís hair dyed red from their neck.
Shell necklaces were made of wampum and various ornaments which were highly esteemed by Native American women. Wampanoag wore strands of tubular and discoidal purple and white shell beads. Narragansett wore strings of long and short whelk shell beads hung around the neck, while women wore shell beads both white and purple, long and short, strung alternately in a double rope. Shell necklaces worn by Seneca include effigy pendants separated by smaller tubular and other shaped shell beads, similar in arrangement to necklaces from southern New England. Symmetry in the arrangement of pendants was not essential and possibly not even desired.
After Europeans contact, beads, pendants and brooches of metal and glass were used for neck ornaments. Penobscot girls wore necklaces of glass beads fastened to ribbons. Wampanoag wore necklaces of European round copper beads, or strands of glass chevron beads. Narragansett had necklaces of blue and white glass beads with bells and thimbles.

Woven Bands

Woven beadwork is distinguished from strands in necklaces and bracelets. Woven beads are oriented in rows of beads placed side by side, not end to end; the result being a wide strip of beads with a geometric design. The bow loom, (similar to an archers bow), was the only type of formal loom used by Natives of New England. The bow loom was used exclusively with wampum or small glass beads, needle and thread, commonly exchanged during the time of European contact. Before use of the bow loom, Native Americans probably secured only one end of a belt for weaving. Using a hand-held finger weaving technique, beads were interwoven one at a time using a doubled thread, into the loose end of the forming belt. Many of the existing use both leather thongs and vegetal fibers for cords and strings. Some fibers used were dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), sometimes called armyroot or black Indian hemp; swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and the hairy milkweed (A. pulchra), also called white Indian hemp; toad flax (Linaria linaria), and Indian mallow (Abutilon abutilon) also known as velvet leaf.
By the late 1500ís, wampum was being woven into strips and belts containing white beads. The first purple wampum was used in such weaving by the early 1600ís. An early engraving depicts a Delaware family dressed in belts, headbands, bracelets, strings, and medallions of black and white wampum beads. Glass and metal beads were eventually woven into strips that were at one time made only of wampum. Wampanoag woven beadwork from this time uses blue and white glass pony beads. Wampanoag leader, King Philip, wore a wampum belt or bandolier (over the shoulder sash) that was nine inches wide and five feet long, with designs of flowers, birds and animals.

Headbands in southern New England were narrow strips of woven wampum five to seven rows wide. These smaller bands have geometric designs in two or three colors of diagonal lines, triangles, nested-squares, crosses or a central figure. King Philipís headband was secured at the back of his head with two "flags" which hung down his back, perhaps long thong ties or decorations appended to them. Some beaded headbands were edged with red-dyed moose hair obtained from Mohawk territory. Northeastern Native Americans also wore bead collars, which used shorter beads than those in used in making bandoliers. Penobscot and Wampanoag collars used a diagonal weaving technique called the bias-weave in designs of thin diagonal lines and diamond shapes.

Ear Ornaments
Earrings of all kinds were worn by both Native American men and women. Some ear ornaments were carved from bone, shells and stone in the form of birds, animals and fish, some obtained in trade from Europeans such as little bells and blue crystals. North Carolina Algonquian men wore in his ears two long bi-conical beads of rolled sheet brass decorated with etched lines. Native Americans in Massachusetts wore copper ear pendants. The earliest metallic earrings in use by Seneca were observed to be those of copper wire coiled and flattened. Brass and copper wire spirals and hoops were worn in the ears of Seneca. Onondaga also wore copper earrings, bent into a double-curve. Narragansett men wore two striped tubular glass beads in each ear. Narragansett woman wore whelk ear pendants.

Anklets and Garters

Native Americans, including the Narragansett and Wampanoag wore anklets of strung beads and pendants. Women often wore tiny flushloop bells, brass rattles, small sheet metal cones and even perforated thimbles on their anklets. Deer toes and dew claws were used as prehistoric pendants. The pendants jingled or made a tinkling noise when they walked or danced, intended to draw attention. Garters were also worn, just below the knee by men and above the knee by women, to secure their leggings, garters were often decorated with embroidery, beads, animal hair and tinkling cones.

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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
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