Mashantucket Pequot Museum Library and Archives Blog

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Question & Answer: Wampum

An occasional feature, where we post some of the interesting email questions we receive.

Question: I am trying to find out how to make wampum. I have collected the necessary shells and would now like to find a book, article, or some other source to guide me through the process. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: Thanks for contacting us. First I recommend looking at our Wampum Bibliography . The material listed there will give you some background on the history and cultural uses of wampum.

The best source we have on wampum beadmaking is found in:
Orchard, William C. Beads and Beadwork of the American Indians. Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation. New York. 1975.

This text is also available online as part of the Universal Library Project hosted at Internet Archive:

See the chapter on titled Wampum which includes not only a discussion of the tools used and illustrations of the bead making process, but also valuable historical and cultural information.

As far as the process for belt weaving, a great description of the process can be found on pp.51-55 of:

Morgan, Lewis Henry and Herbert Marshall Lloyd. League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee Or Iroquois. Dodd, Mead and Company, 1901.

Available online from Google Books:
The most common width was 3 fingers or the width of 7 beads, the length ranging from 2 to 6 feet. In belt-making, which is a simple process, eight strands or cords of bark thread are first twisted from filaments of slippery elm, of the requisite length and size; after which they are passed through a strip of deerskin to separate them at equal distances from each other in parallel lines. A splint is then sprung in the form of a bow, to which each end of the several strings is secured, and by which all of them are held in tension, like warp threads in a weaving machine. Seven beads, these making the intended width of the belts, are then run upon a thread by means of a needle, and are passed under the cords at right angles, so as to bring one bead lengthwise between each cord and the one next in position. The thread is then passed back along the upper side of the cords, and again through each of the beads; so that each bead is held firmly in its place by means of the two threads, one passing under and one over the cords. This process is continued until the belt reaches its intended length, when the ends of the cords are tied, the end of the belt covered and afterwards trimmed with ribbons. In ancient times both the cords and the threads were of sinew.
Email your questions to: reference [at]

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