The Chickasaw Nation
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Database Fields: Glass Beads

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Glass Bead Database

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Dating the Chickasaw Beads

by Stephen R. Cook, April 2005

Dedicated to . . .
Cayce Banks Livingston (1917 - 2012)
Who pioneered Chickasaw archaeology with Moreau B. Chambers and Jesse D. Jennings

Glass Trade Beads

Glass trade beads from Chickasaw villages have been recovered in the greater Tupelo, Mississippi area for more than a century (C.B. Livingston, Personal Communication, 1991). Many found their way into private collections before the turn of the century. Many others were discovered during construction and farming activities in the 1960s and 70s. Archaeologists beginning in the 1930s recovered others.

Figure 1 indicates the Chickasaw village areas where glass beads have been recovered. Note the location of downtown Tupelo just north of the confluence of Kings and Town Creeks. The shaded areas represent the 1720 village descriptions provided by Adair (Adair 1775 352-353). "The Chickasaw Villages" reached conclusions that the villages and village areas shown on Figure 1 were occupied at least from 1690 to 1800. "The Chickasaw Villages" also pointed to an earlier occupation at Old Town, see Figure 2. Paper 1 also noted that the Chickasaw began abandoning their villages before 1797, a process that was all but complete by 1805. These dates are important for this study.

The study included collector and archaeologist recovered glass beads. The collecting in Tupelo ended legally in 1979; however, the growth of Tupelo and the destruction of village sites continued. An interview process included eight persons who had collected prior to 1979. The purpose of the interview process was to ascertain bead/feature provenance and integrity. Of dire importance, was whether the collector maintained a segregation of beads by feature. All of the features in this report were burials. Once provenance proved secure, the beads were inspected and recorded into the bead typology.

A glass bead typology was developed prior to the interviews. Conventions of existing typologies were utilized and followed; however, changes were adopted to better interpret the collection. The principal changes involved using bead size to define type, combining color varieties into types and conjoining structural types. These changes resulted in a typology with 26 bead types/varieties.

Note that the glass beads recovered by archeologists include those recovered by Moreau Chambers, Jesse Jennings, John O'Hear and Jay Johnson. Donna Courtney-Rausch prepared a paper "Glass Trade Beads" that included a bead study from four dug Chickasaw sites. Three of those sites were within the eighteenth century village areas and the fourth miles south. While that paper was well prepared and helpful, the beads were not available for inspection, as most had been repatriated. Since bead size is vital for this effort, the beads recovered by archaeologists were excused from evaluation.

This paper attempts to incorporate a plausible glass bead typology from the beads of the collectors that yields a sequence of and dates for these glass beads. Further analyses of the glass beads and other artifacts will also be undertaken. The association of the glass beads with other artifacts was documented on a feature basis. Therefore, if the glass beads are dated, then the accompanying artifacts may be dated as well.

Interviews

Interviews were conducted with eight collectors to determine the circumstances of the feature discovery and the integrity of the glass beads since discovery. Recall that the features' were discovered at least 25 years ago. Provenance of the feature was judged acceptable if the collector had recall of where the feature had been recovered, what, if any, other artifacts had been found with the feature (other than glass beads) and whether the feature's glass beads' integrity had been maintained. There were more rejected features than accepted features. For the most part, the collectors had maintained very good integrity of the larger beads within their collections.

The collector feature information was data based on a Microsoft Excel 2002 spreadsheet. The data consisted of twenty-six glass type/varieties, six artifacts and one location field. Each feature had a unique number. The glass beads were counted or estimated for each bead type/variety. The medium, large, very large and extra large sized beads were counted while the small and very small beads were estimated (usually by length if the beads were strung). When large numbers of medium sized beads were encountered, the bead numbers were estimated and the result rounded. Bead measurements included the maximum dimension of the bead (length or width). To ensure accuracy relative to classification and data recording, the bead counts were repeated. Note that feature count, not bead count will be analyzed in this paper. Bead count has significance only if there was one specimen of a bead type/variety in a feature as will be demonstrated later.

The database includes not only glass bead fields but also fields for other associated artifacts.