Publication Date

June 2011


European artifacts found on Native American archaeological sites have long interested archaeologists. Such artifacts have often been used as temporal markers (Brain 1975, Smith 1987, Smith and Good 1982) or as ways to measure acculturation (Brown 1979a, 1979b, White 1975, Smith 1987), but scholars have paid little attention to the mechanisms which delivered such artifacts to the Native populace (but see Brain 1975, DePratter and Smith 1980, Waselkov 1989). Using historical records, archaeological remains, and, most importantly, the context of the archaeological finds, it should be possible to gain some understanding ofhow European materials were obtained by Native Americans and, equally important, what they subsequently did with them.

In a pioneering study, Jeffrey Brain (1975) looked at materials distributed by Hernando de Soto. He believed that there was a standard "gift kit" of beads and bells used on most early expeditions. Brain especially focused on chevron beads and Clarksdale bells. Focusing on the Juan Pardo expeditions of 1566-68, DePratter and Smith (1980) also looked at European gift-giving as a mechanism of distribution. They noted that gifts were given to Native elites and to translators, whose social status was unknown but might also be elite. Marvin Smith (1987:25) only considered two possible mechanisms for the introduction of European artifacts: direct trade by Europeans and indirect trade through Native middlemen. Smith saw European materials being controlled by the elite, but, as we shall see, other mechanisms may have allowed commoners to obtain European artifacts.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.