70,000 beads from 17th century found in coastal Georgia

April 10th, 2009 - 3:39 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 10 (ANI): Archaeologists have excavated the largest 17th century bead repository found in coastal Georgia, with a recovery of roughly 70,000 beads manufactured all over the world.

The beads were found as part of an extensive, ongoing research project led by a team of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History on St. Catherines Island off the coast of Georgia.

Comprising the largest repository ever from Spanish Florida, the beads enlighten archaeologists about past trade routes and provide clues to the social structure and wealth of the people.

“This is the northernmost outpost of the Spanish empire, but we see evidence of ancient trade routes from China via Manila’s galleons to Mexico and Spain,” said Lorann Pendleton, Director of the Archaeology Laboratory at the Museum.

“We also have found perhaps the first evidence of Spanish beadmaking, along with beads from the main centers of Italy, France, and the Netherlands,” he added.

Years of analysis reveal roughly 130 different types of beads on the island, and numbers of specimens per type range from one to 20,000.

Most of the more common beads are of Venetian and potentially French origin, with new research suggesting that one of the most common beads of the 17th century, the Ichtucknee blue, was manufactured in France. Some of the unique beads, though, may be Spanish, Chinese, Bohemian, Indian, or Baltic in origin.

While roughly 2,000 beads were found elsewhere at the mission (such as in the convent), most were found in the cemetery under the church.

These were items intentionally deposited with individuals as grave goods, and the analysis of these items shows that there were subtle temporal and spatial changes in how the cemetery was used.

Most burials found with large numbers of beads appear to date to the earlier part of the mission’s history (the first half of the 17th century); items found with burials that date to the latter half of the 17th century are more likely to be religious medallions and rosaries.

But because almost half the beads in the cemetery were buried with a few individuals who tended to be near the altar, it is often assumed that they were of high status in the community.

“A higher number of beads were found toward the altar, and some of the highest-status individuals (by number of beads) were children,” said Pendleton. “This gives us lots of information about Guale society and means that status was ascribed with birth,” he added. (ANI)

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