Perhaps a very, very long time ago, only a select few members of a tribe, clan, or settlement wore jewelry. It might have designated status or influence over the group’s activities.
There’s just something about jewelry, though, that makes everybody seem to want to wear it. The wearing of jewelry is one practice thought to be widespread among all peoples of the world and throughout the ages.
The Native American peoples of all tribes were certainly no exception. And, just as the jewelers from around the globe did, American Indian jewelers used the materials found in natural settings in the environment in which they lived.
The North American continent is a huge landmass blessed with geographic diversity that rivals the diversity of its flora and fauna. Settling into any one area generated a unique collection of natural materials with which the first people of the continent built their homes, religions, cultures, their entire lives.
Almost from the very beginning, these earliest settlements were home to American Indian jewelers who were inspired by the materials of nature surrounding them. These jewelers used these naturally found objects to craft exquisite jewelry that the entire population wore.
Certainly not all the jewelry worn as everyday adornment was fashioned by one of the American Indian jewelers who excelled at the craft. It’s quite likely individuals expressing themselves through the body art they crafted themselves enjoyed some beadwork, carving, and other jewelry-making skills. It’s also quite likely the master American Indian jewelers reserved their skills for jewelry worn by tribal leaders and reserved, perhaps, for special occasions.
The diversity of natural materials across the continent inspired these earliest American Indian jewelers, who fashioned highly creative works of art.
Oyster, clam, and other bivalve shells were used, as were the horns and bone of elk, bison, and many other animals. Feathers from the local bird population were used for adornment, too.
Dried seeds from plants native to a particular area became jewelry, too. Acorns and nuts were polished and beaded for use in agricultural ceremonial jewelry.
American Indian jewelers also used offerings from the earth to make beautiful jewelry, too. Turquoise, coral, amber, topaz, pearls, and many other gemstones were available to the first American Indian jewelers.
Archaeological evidence, folklore and legend, and oral history passed down through the generations reveal a wealth of jewelry worn by American Indians so those first American Indian jewelers must have stayed quite busy, indeed.