Native American Consumption of Shell and Glass Beads at Mission Santa Clara de Asís

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The Society for American Archaeology / Cambridge University Press


This article uses a consumption framework to examine Native American use of shell and glass beads at the site of Mission Santa Clara de Asís in central California. The analysis considers how indigenous people acquired beads within the mission system as well as the ways in which they integrated diverse types of beads into existing and emergent cultural traditions. Regional archaeological evidence reveals multiple sources of shell beads while the mission's account book offers detailed information regarding the purchase of glass beads by Franciscan missionaries. At Santa Clara, archaeological assemblages from various temporal and spatial contexts demonstrate that native people continued to use shell beads throughout the mission period but also incorporated glass beads into local understandings of status and mourning. Within these general patterns of bead use, the evidence suggests a local preference for white glass beads as well as variation in the use of or access to shell beads across the mission community. These data underscore the localized ways indigenous people made sense of new and familiar items within the constraints of colonialism.