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Native American Jewelry – Tribal Differences in Design The East Woodlands

The Native American bracelets and necklaces of the Southwest are renowned the world over, particularly for the use of turquoise and silver overlay designs. Native American jewely of the Eastern US differs significantly from these designs. Each of these eastern tribes has its own styles and designs which are influenced by the materials available locally and the culture of each American Indian nation.

American Indians of the Northeast Woodlands

The Northeast Woodlands encompasses the area between the US Midwest and the Southeast of Canada. There are three main areas: the Great Lakes-Riverine Zone, the Saint Lawrence Lowlands, and the Coastal Zone. This extends south as far as North Carolina. The Native American Peoples represented by this region include (but are not limited to) the Abenaki, Algonquin, Ojibwe, Erie, Winnebago, Iroquois (including Cayuga, Mohawk, and Seneca), Kickapoo, Mohegan, Narragansett, Montauk, Shawnee, and Wampanoag.

Older crafts in this region saw stone carved into bird motifs; use of bear teeth and carved shells were also common. Pearls were very popular and were often incorporated into pieces with teeth, bone, wood, and stone.

The Iroquois carved hair combs from moose antlers, and slate was also carved into rectangular shapes and worn at the throat.

Prior to European contact, the jewelry produced by the tribes of this region was dominated by copper and large shell beads that were disc or barrel-shaped. Entire shells were also used with small perforations made for stringing. “Wampum” is a Wampanoag word that refers to beads crafted from channelled whelk and quahog clamshells. Bead makers from the Narragansett tribe were even buried with their wampum tools and supplies for use in the Afterlife. Narragansett Indians were known for shell pendants in a teardrop shape; the Iroquois or purple shell claw pendants. The Seneca Indians crafted pendants of circular shells, and whelk shells were carved to represent birds and animals and worn as earrings or necklaces.

Today, silver has replaced copper as the metal of choice.

American Indians of the Southeast Woodlands

The Southeast Woodlands refers to the area east and south of the Great Plains, Prairies, and Northeastern Woodlands. It is a diverse area with Tribes including but not limited to the Apalachee, Biloxi, Caddo, Calusa, Cape Fear, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Roanoke, Pensacola, Santee, Tawasa, and Waccamaw Siouan.

In the Mississippian culture, including the Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokee, clay, stone and pearl beads were carved and worn, and small masks were made from copper, bone, and shells to represent gods. Necklaces were usually made from pearls and Job’s Tears (a plant material), and ancient ear spools have been found which were made from stone and wood overlaid with copper foil.

The Europeans introduced glass beads and silversmithing to these tribes and armbands made from silver and brass were popular for native men of this region thereafter. Choctaw men wore collars of woven horsehair, while Choctaw women wore silver combs and beaded collars.  Cherokee silversmithing became popular, and Sequoyah became a famous silversmith in the 1700s-1800s.

Native American bracelets, necklaces, and other jewelry are a testament to the cultural diversity and beliefs of its crafters, and each region has its own unique qualities in design.

Visit Indian Traders today for a vast array of beautiful jewelry of the southwest, including authentic Native American pieces.