M13459A | Bead lot

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Bead lot
Eastern Woodlands
About 1580-1630, 16th century or 17th century
Purchase from Mr. John H. Crouse
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Beads (37)
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Keys to History

These glass beads date from about 1630 to the 1650s, and come from a Neutral village site in Ontario. The earliest glass beads brought by Europeans appear to have been strung and worn as necklaces and adornments on the body, or attached to ear and hair ornaments. Some beads may have arrived in the form of rosaries, given to Aboriginal converts. Eventually Aboriginal people incorporated glass beads into clothing styles - embroidering tiny white glass beads onto the edges of moccasin and coat cuffs, and weaving them into sashes and straps.

Glass beads were quickly incorporated into the suite of materials (including high-quality stone to make tools, bark, deer hides and corn) that travelled along Aboriginal trade routes. In this way, beads travelled across vast distances and often ended up very far from the initial location where trade with Europeans took place. Archaeologists are able to recognize distinctive, precisely dated glass bead assemblages, and this allows isolated Aboriginal sites from anywhere within these trading spheres to be placed within this master chronological sequence.

  • What

    These are glass beads that were probably made on Murano, an island in Venice, Italy and then carried to the Gulf of St. Lawrence by French merchants. The types include chevron beads, with their distinctive multi-coloured edges, as well as monochromatic red and turquoise tubular and round beads.

  • Where

    Most of these beads come from a Neutral village situated near Hamilton, Ontario. They were probably acquired through trade with Iroquois groups living in the St. Lawrence Valley, close to centres of French activity such as Quebec and Tadoussac.

  • When

    These glass beads date from 1630 to the 1650s. Archaeologists call this period "Glass Bead Period III" due to the distinctive assemblage of glass beads that have been identified on archaeological sites of this time period.

  • Who

    These beads were made by Italian glass artists, transported to a major French, Dutch or English port and traded or given to Aboriginal people by French merchants. They were then traded to the Neutral, an Iroquois group living in present-day Ontario The Neutral disappeared during the turbulent wars that took place in the 17th century.