Native American Money

People tend to view currency as a paper or metal object. Dollar bills and coins have a monetary amount attached to them, which we use for purchasing goods. Throughout history though, currency took on a different appearance. The best example of this is Native American money. The currency these tribes used early on actually took on the appearance of elaborate beads or bead work.

In the United States the Native Americans used bead work known as wampum as a type of currency. The history of Native American money actually dates back to the Mayans and Aztecs living in Mexico. They kept cocoa beans in large bags, which they used for payment. They also stores gold dust in quills and traded that for goods from other tribes and settlers. This was popular for hundreds of years.

Resources on Native American money include:

Wampum came about during the 16th century as Spanish settlers began arriving in North America. Clam shells from the Atlantic ocean were cleaned, buffed and cut into different shapes and sizes of beads. The use of wampum wasn't limited only to those tribes on the East Coast, but spread across the country. Tribes traded with other tribes, using wampum as the main form of payment. They often strung the beads onto a length of rope or string. The length of the rope indicated the amount of payment. It was common to see smaller strands of one foot as well as strands as long as the human body.

By the time English settlers arrived in North America, wampum was the main form of currency used. The settlers themselves paid each other with wampum beads since English money had no value in the new world. There are even stories of settlers making fake wampum. As more people learned how to make wampum and the beads spread, the value lowered significantly and was eventually phased out.

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