Detecting preference in the archaeological record: a study of glass trade beads among the Natchez Indians

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A previously undocumented sample of over 13,800 glass trade beads from historic Natchez Indian sites in Adams County, Mississippi was classified and 52 separate varieties were identified. The data were then analyzed in order to examine variation between six Natchez settlement districts, or village areas. Ethnic and political differences are known to have existed between these districts, so the study sought to explore how this might have affected the use of glass beads. Settlement district assemblages were evaluated on the basis of diversity of bead varieties, frequencies of bead construction methods, and frequencies of beads by color. Statistically significant differences were found to exist, suggesting that these distributions were not the result of chance. Disparities in the occurrence of blue and white beads between French and English-allied districts were particularly pronounced. Since the settlement districts are comparable in time and geographic location, and had roughly equal access to trade beads, it is argued that these differences in bead assemblages were the result of specific group preferences, perhaps relating to political factions within the Natchez chiefdom.

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