Wampum is a traditional shell bead of the Eastern Woodlands tribes of Native Americans. It includes white shell beads hand-fashioned from the North Atlantic channeled whelk shell and white and purple beads made from the quahog or Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clam.
In New York, wampum beads have been discovered dating before 1510. Before European contact, strings of wampum were used for storytelling, ceremonial gifts, and recording important treaties and historical events, such as the Two Row Wampum Treaty and the Hiawatha Belt. Wampum was also used by the northeastern Indigenous tribes as a means of exchange, strung together in lengths for convenience. The first colonists understood it as a currency and adopted it as such in trading with them. Eventually, the colonists applied their technologies to more efficiently produce wampum, which caused inflation and ultimately its obsolescence as currency.
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