Beauty in Art: Native American Jewelry

Jake Barnett, Guest Writer

Have you ever wondered what jewelry looked like around 12,000 years ago in North America? The first record of jewelry worn by Native Americans was in 10,000 BC by the Paleo-Indians. 


Paleo-Indians were the first people to arrive in America. Paleo-Indians used shells, stones, antlers, bones, porcupine quills, feathers, and additional materials used to create what we now call jewelry. 


Since Native Americans did not have a way to make beautiful gold necklaces and other jewelry. They used what they found around them in nature. Made from what they had around, pendants were carved from fish and animal bones, shells chipped into beads for necklaces, and later on, used animal teeth and different stones. 


Native Americans did have silver and pearls. These pearls and silver are in modern jewelry. You must be thinking, why even wear jewelry? Is it just for beauty, or does it have a deeper meaning? If you thought it had a deeper meaning, you would be right. 


Indigenous people traditionally had to have their wealth be portable, so they had to always have it on them.  Think of it like the bartering system. The jewelry was a wearable bank for the owner of the piece. Jewelry depicted how rich you were in rank within a tribe and your social status in the tribe. 


Turquoise was the most common stone used for jewelry. Turquoise is pretty, and it was popular among many tribes. As we now know, jewelry shows your rank within a tribe, depicts indicators of the history of your family, tribe, and oneself, and shows your individuality. 


 There was never a written language developed by Native Americans, so jewelry was used to carry on traditions. Style and design changed between the different nations. Jewelry was important in trade between tribes because these tribes were willing to use other styles to make better jewelry to trade it for crops like corn.


 Sadly this craft is dying out in many Native American communities. I hope you have learned something new about Native American Jewelry and take part in this craft.