During the Late Prehistoric period (as evidenced by the nearby Wall site), many native ornaments were made from the columella, or central columns, of large marine gastropods. These probably were taken from species of the Melogenidae (Crown Conch) family which occur along the Atlantic seaboard from Massachusetts to Florida (Percy 1972). Small disk beads, gorgets, and pendants were made from the outer whorl of these large univalves. A small univalve called marginella (of the Marginellidae family) which occurs along the coast from the West Indies to the southern beaches of North Carolina (Percy 1972) was also used as a form of ornament.
On the whole, the coastal univalves were the source material for the greatest proportion of ornaments. To a much lesser extent bivalve shells (presumably mussel) and stone fragments were made into small disk beads, and native copper and mica were used for other types of ornaments.
By the time the Fredricks site was occupied by the Occaneechi, many of the previously available bead forms (pendants, tubes, and sphericals) had been modified and others (columella segments and marginellas) had been all but dropped from use. Several new types--runtees and cylinder/barrels made from columella, and wampum made from quahogs (Mercenaria mercenaria)--had appeared. Quahogs occur from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Florida (Percy 1972). Although small disk beads appear to have retained both their form and function through this time, they too show indications of the impact of European influence.
In 1709 John Lawson (Lefler 1967:204), who had travelled through North Carolina in 1701 and visited Occaneechi Town, gave a general description of Indian beadmaking:
This [the shell preform] the Indians grind on Stones and other things, till they make it current but the Drilling is the most difficult to the Englishmen, which the Indians manage with a Nail stuck in a Cane or Reed. Thus they roll it continually on their Thighs, with their Right-Hand holding the Bit of Shell with this Left, so in time they drill a Hole quite through it, which is a very tedious Work; but especially in making their Roanoak, four of which will scarce make one Length of Wampum.
Based of the above ethnohistorical information, we can expect to see several manifestations in the archaeological record. The basic beadmaking process appears to have involved first obtaining a preform from the shell by breaking or the groove-and-snap technique, then reducing the piece, and finally drilling, grinding, and smoothing. Prehistoric tool types for this work would have included hammerstones, stone drills, burins, chisels, and anvils, grinding stones, and stone or pottery abraders. At historic beadmaking stations, one should find many of the components of the prehistoric tool kit along with the replacement or addition of metal tools such as awls/drills/needles, pincers/tongs/vices for holding preforms, and perhaps also hammers and saws for reducing the shells. Where the purple wampum were made, we should expect to find Quahog shells (Mercenaria mercenaria). Where other types of beads and ornaments were manufactured, there should be refuse from univalve shells (called periwinkles in the 1600-1700s). The lack of such beadworking tools and shell debris at the Fredricks site suggest that shell beads were not manufactured by the Occaneechi but were received in trade.
Types of Shell Ornaments
Eight kinds of shell ornaments were recovered from the Fredricks site: pendants, tube beads, columella segment beads, spherical columella beads, barrel/cylinder beads, small disk beads, wampum, and runtees. Most of these were found in association with burials and represent either decorative elements sewn onto garments or jewelry.