Native American Jewelry - History

Atsidi Sani - Native American

Native American tribes started to manufacture jewelry for personal adornment over 10 thousand years ago, as means of visual showcase of individuality, rank and history. Because Indigenous peoples of North America never developed written language, jewelry was one of the most important ways of carrying tradition and information on many layers from one generation to another. Craftsman from all parts of North America created their own types of jewelry, often with varying styles that showcased various aspects of their individuality, beliefs and later on resistance against assimilation against European settlers.

Early pieces of Native American jewelry created between 8800 BC and 1500 BC were created from drilled multicolored stones, shaped stones, shells made into beads and pendants, bones, antlers, stone beads and early metalwork from bronze. In later periods jewelry became more advanced with the introduction of pearls, abalone, tirquose, coral, carved wood, and beads made from animal bones, claws and teeth.

During the modern history of Native American people, artisans of all types (carvers, metalsmiths, beaders, and lapidaries) combined all available materials in their environment to create jewelry that tell the tales of their history and people. Because of the close relation with other trebles, as soon as one artisan managed to perfect the way of creating jewelry from new material, this knowledge traveled across the North America until it reached distant tribes. One of that occasions happened in 1870s when Zuni Navaho tribe managed to incorporate Silver into their designs. This knowledge soon traveled to every other major Native American tribe that was famous for their jewelry production, most notably Apache, Hopi and Navajo.

Always adapting, their jewelry started being made from any technology being available, even from modern day computer controlled manufacture of steel and titanium. Today, Native American jewelry is regarded as one of the most tightly focused designs of jewelry in the world, which showcases their unique tribal unity in face of many outside influences.