Introduction - Native American Indian JewelryNative American Indian jewelry (also spelled jewellery) has a history dating back thousands of years. Tribes stretching from the southwest to the northeast have a rich history of jewelry making. These indigenous American peoples jewelry consist of all types including bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings; and are made from numerous materials including turquoise, bone, precious stones, semi-precious stones, silver, antlers, porcupine quills, and copper. Today there are still many Native American artists who handcraft both men's jewelry and women's jewelry many of which can be found for sale online. The below information on Native American jewelry includes interesting facts about why it was made, what main materials have traditionally been used, and why turquoise is so popular. The format is kid-friendly and easily readable for all ages.
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Native American Indian Jewelry History
- There is evidence as far back as 8,800 BC that the Paleo-Indians shaped stones and shells into jewelry pieces by using a thin stone drill.
- The main reason American Indians wore jewelry was, as it is today, for adornment. It was also used to signify social class.
- Although jewelry styles varied from tribe to tribe, major differences were not common since both the finished product and the materials used for making the jewelry were important intertribal trade items.
- It is a little known fact that the American Indians actually learned silversmithing from the Spanish in the 1850s. Many people assume it is an ancient American Indian art form. Once they mastered the art of silversmithing, many Southwest tribes were able to move to a more merchant based society.
- When Europeans began arriving in America in the 1500's, Native Americans began incorporating the beads they brought over into their jewelry.
- Around 1900 AD, Native American Indian craftsmen of the southwest began selling their silver and turquoise jewelry to tourists who had begun flocking to the area.
Native American Indian Jewelry Materials
- Turquoise has long been a dominant material in southwestern Native American jewelry. Representing the sky and known as the "fallen sky stone", turquoise was believed to have life-giving powers and was cherished for its spiritual connection to Mother Earth.
- Semi-precious and precious stones were often used in Native American jewelry making; these included Turquoise, Garnets, Charoite, and gaspeite stones.
- Copper was a popular metal for Native American jewelry pieces before the art of silversmithing was learned. Copper was popular among the Cherokee who had villages near copper mines.
- Bead jewelry is deeply rooted in Indian culture. It was often used as a means of representing social classes.
- It was common for Native Americans to use parts from animals to make jewelry. They would often use bones, teeth and even animal hide in creating their jewelry.
- Native Americans commonly used tendons of animals and plant fibers to string beads together.
- Native American Indians used marine shells such as oyster, conch and clam to ground into beads, while mother of pearl stones were used as adornment.
- Native American Indians would soak and then string porcupine quills together to make elegant necklaces, chokers and other jewelry. Unfortunately, the art of porcupine quill jewelry among Native Americans is declining.
- Today, some Native American Indian artists also incorporate machine made materials, such as steel and titanium, as well as processed stones into their jewelry.