Trade Beads

Beads are one of the oldest human artifacts identified and as they were often made from durable materials (glass, ceramic, stone, shell) they last both in the ground and underwater. Some of the oldest identified beads were located in Morocco in cave deposits nearly 82,000 years old and there are some that seem to stretch back over 125,000 years. Anthropologists are excited by this inasmuch as it shows symbolic behaviors were present in early modern human groups at least that long ago.

Trade Beads

Columbus brought green and yellow beads with him to the new world and they continued to be important trade items in dealings with aboriginal people. The Native Americans had their own bead traditions, however this was pre-empted by the Spanish.

One of the predominant bead manufacturing areas in Europe was based in Italy around Venice   on the Island of Murano. Originally the bead factories were in the city of Venice proper but was moved to the island due to fears of fires from the manufacturing process.

The beads from this factory and from other areas of Europe became commodities used throughout the America’s as a form of trade.

One of my clients who was working under contract with the Dominican Republic came across a wreck during their search and surveys that contained an enormous amount of these beads. They dubbed the site the “Bead Wreck”.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti were once known as Hispaniola, and this was the site of some of the earliest colonies of European based peoples in the New World. For many years during the earliest period of Colonization this Island served as the nexus of the Conquest of the New World.

While the more humble objects such as beads often get lost in the larger picture of historical events, these played a pivotal role in swaying native groups to join in with the new social order. It must be understood that while guns, horses, soldiers, steel and force were the spear point of the conquest there were also the priests and colonists that had also to follow in the wake of the armies. Native Americans were being exposed to new systems of government and commerce and these humble beads played a role in the more “peaceful” assimilation of cultures.

Undoubtedly many of us will remember that the Dutch bought the Island of Manhattan from the native peoples for twenty four dollars’ worth of beads. And while the actual makeup of the trade goods is likely more varied the fact that there were beads as a part of the purchase price is likely without doubt.

Bead Wreck

Unfortunately little is known about the bead wreck except that it was carrying both beads and bricks, three large and three small cannon an anchor were also located on the site.

Map of Wreck





While there is not enough evidence to find a ships name the beads cannon and cup actually put this in the 18th century or the 1700’s likely early 1700’s.