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Hunting Glass Trade Beads

by V Gary Henry, Ashville, North Carolina

Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.2, pg.82Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.4, pg.200


In 2005, I submitted a manuscript entitled “A Collage of Favorite Relic Stories” for a book project on collector’s favorite Indian ar­tifact stories. Since that project seems to have not borne fruition, I have decided to submit these stories individually for consideration for publishing. This is the first of these stories. Some of my favorite relic-hunting stories in­clude finding my first Clovis points reported on earlier in this journal (Henry 1993) and which I will not repeat here.

Upon leaving graduate school in 1965 (my graduation and master’s degree in wildlife management would be completed in 1968), I was employed by the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission (now Wildlife Resources Agency) to conduct research on the Euro­pean Wild Hog in Eastern Tennessee. I was stationed at Tellico Plains, once the Overhill Capitol of the Cherokee Nation. As the local area was rich in Indian artifacts, 1965 marked the beginning of my collecting activities.

I resided at Tellico Plains, in Monroe County, until 1968 and, during this three- year period, one area hunted regularly was the remnants of a burial mound in the bottom-lands along the Tellico River that was farmed by Stokely Van Camp Corporation. In search­ing this mound area, the most common arti­facts to be found were glass trade beads that apparently had been plowed out of graves and scattered throughout the soil. The majority of these trade beads were the very small seed beads 1/8 inch in diameter, which were dif­ficult to see in just walking over the site, with my eyes 5 1/2 feet from the ground. There­fore, I got the idea to crawl over the mound site (between rows when crops were planted but still small) on my hands and knees, thus placing my eyes closer to ground level. I car­ried a .30-06 shell case in which to deposit the small seed beads. Larger beads that would not fit in the case, when occasionally found, were simply placed into my pockets.

I am unaware of, and never saw, anyone else using the technique, so I assume I was the originator of this technique of hunting seed beads, and it proved very profitable.  If my memory serves me correctly, the most beads that I ever placed into one shell case were 198; this probably also represents my best single-day hunting trip using this technique. Figure 1 shows a frame showing 2,777 glass line that was found at this site using this technique.

Figure 2 is a frame of artifacts from Mon­roe County that includes a string of 125 other types of beads (8 clay, 8 stone — including large one center right in the frame, 61 shell, 16 bone, 12 metal and 20 kaolin pipe stem) around the outside of the frame that I also found on the mound (shown in Hothem 2006: 99).


[Fig 2]

I also found the four rolled copper points at top center and the round metal pendant at top left in the frame on this mound. Another collector also found the 14 glass trade beads at the top of the frame on the mound (shown in Hothem 2007a: 299). The other artifacts in the frame were found by other collectors but it is unknown if any of these artifacts came from the mound. These include the undrilled reel gorget (shown in Hothem 2007a: 60), sandstone incised point effigy pendant (shown in Hothem 2007b: 295), another stone pendant with hole worn through (shown in Hothem 2007b: 187), two clay human face effigies from pottery vessels, five bifaces, one celt and one jasper pipe.”Used by Permission of the Author”
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