Length: 110.000 cm
Room 26: North America
Purple wampum belt
Algonquian, 18th century
Possibly from Malcite, New Brunswick, north-eastern North America
Wampum consists of small cylindrical beads, often about 5-7 mm long and 1.5 mm wide. Historically these were made from purple and white shells, the purple coming from the edge of the quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), and the white from the columns of univalve whelks (Busycon).
Wampum beads were manufactured by Algonquian-speaking peoples along the coast of New England, by Iroquois, and by white manufacturers (Dutch and British soldiers, for instance). Later they were made in specific factories in New Jersey and elsewhere, until the nineteenth century. In the early seventeenth century, the Dutch realized that wampum could be used as a currency in the inland fur trade with the Iroquois; they introduced the idea to the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in the 1620s.
The Iroquoian- and
Algonquian-speaking peoples used wampum for decoration and
adornment. It was also used to make woven belts, with the two
colours acting as
Before European contact, when metal tools became available, flat disc shaped beads were made. Metal drills enabled the creation of cylindrical beads. From the late eighteenth century these were replace by imitation glass wampum, probably made in Venice.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)