Photographs (left to right): Tent Rocks National Monument, New Mexico; Canadian Geese, Mendon Ponds Park, New York ; Storm on the Island of Dominica

Wampum Belt Archive


Probable Iroquois Wampum Belt

Pitt-Rivers Museum Oxford, Oxford, England

Original Size:

5 rows. Length: 30.5 cm 446 beads








Black shell bead band with three white outlined diamond. Wrapped edges. PRMO 1886.1.883. Collected 1656?

Exchanged with Ashmolean Museum Oxford, Oxford, England AMO AM833 in 1886, probably John Transcendent Collection (1685?)


Pitt Rivers Description

Object description: Band of purple and white wampum beads ornamentally threaded diamond patterns. The belt contains 446 wampum beads. [HR 26/2/2007] Publications history, trails & websites: Possibly listed on page 51 of Museum Tradescantianum, Or a Collection of Rarities Preserved at South-Lambeth neer London, by John Tradescant (London, 1656), where there is an entry reading: 'Black Indian girdles made of Wampam peek, the best sort'. [JC 19 9 2013] Listed as entry 354 on page 339 of 'Ethnological Specimens in the Pitt Rivers Museum attributed to the Tradescant Collection', by Lynne Williamson, in Tradescant's Rarities: Essays on the Foundation of the Ashmolean Museum 1683 with a Catalogue of the Surviving Early Collections, ed. Arthur MacGregor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 338−45. The entry takes the form of an edited transcription of the entry in the 'List of Anthropological objects transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers' museum 1886' (for which, see under ‘Primary Documentation’), with metric dimensions:

'354. WAMPUM BEADS (1886. no. 833). "A band of blue and white Wampum beads, woven closely together in five rows, the white forming three lozenge-shaped ornaments along the centre, and a square patch at each end, the strings there forming a ride fringe. The beads are cylindrical in shape, in lgenth from 5 mmto 7.5 mm and about 4 mm in diameter. The strings on which they are worked are made of hemp. Length of beadwork only 305 mm. Extreme length of band 433 mm, width 38 mm." 1656 p. 51:

Black Indian girdles made of Wampam peek, the best sort.' Also discussed on pages 338-339: 'No. 354, wampum beads: X-ray photographs show that many of the shell beads in this specimen have parallel-sided perforations. This indicates that the drills used were metal- / pointed, influenced by European contact. The methods of drilling these beads are not strictly uniform, however, and although this is a well-made piece it seems not to have been "mass-produced". Its date could be early seventeenth century, although it does not exhibit pre-contact manufacturing techniques. Its small size suggests that this piece was used as ornamentation rather than as an illustration of tribal history displayed in ceremonies.' [JC 2 5 2008; JC 17 9 2013] Illustrated in colour on page 47 of 'America in European Consciousness' by Karen Ordahl Kupperman, in The World of 1607 Special Exhibition: Artifacts of the Jamestown Era from Around the World (Williamsburg, Virginia: Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, 2007), pp. 42-50; caption (same page) reads:

'Band of Purple and White Wampum Beads / Before 1656, Virginia Indian / Shell and hemp fiber, 43.3 x 4 cm / Courtesy of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford 1886.1.833'. [JC 2 5 2008] Illustrated in colour and listed as catalogue number 132 on page 118 of On the Trails of the Iroquois, edited by Sylvia R. Kasprycki (transl. Christian E. Feest) (Bonn: Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 2013). Catalogue entry (pages 124-5): '132 Wampum belt | Iroquois (?), before 1656 | White and purple shell beads, vegetable fibers, 41.2 x 4.2 cm | Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, cat. no.1886.1.833 (Ashmolean Museum coll., formerly John Tradescant coll.) | The Tradescant collection included two "black Indian girdles of Wampum peek, the best sort" (Tradescant 1656: 51). The second belt, not shown here, corresponds to another one excavated from a Seneca village site near Holcomb, New York, which was inhabited around 1650. C[hristian].F[eest]." [FB 08/04/2013; JC 4 2 2016]


Pitt Rivers.

Stolle, Nickolaus. 2016. Talking Beads: The history of wampum as a value and knowledge bearer, from its very first beginnings until today. Hamburg, Germany. ISSN 1437-7837