Late Precontact and Protohistoric Glass Beads of Alaska

Margan Allyn Grover


Glass trade beads are tiny packets of information that are commonly misunderstood by archaeologists. Evidence is accumulating to indicate that they were introduced to Alaska before contact through existing indigenous trade networks. This study identifies a pattern of bead types from the precontact or protohistoric in western and northern Alaska. Green-, clear-, and gray-centered red varieties (Type IVa) were introduced into the Bering Strait region during the historic period, probably during the 19th century. However, large wound pale blue, turquoise, or white glass beads (Type WIb) were reported in the late precontact to protohistoric range. Another characteristic of glass beads during this period was split, or half beads. These early bead types were quickly integrated into existing socioeconomic systems and material culture, so much so that by 1791, glass beads were valued commodities.

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