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Treasures of the Jersey Shore
What is Wampum?


Wampum shell beads have played a significant role in American Indian Culture for thousands of years. White (wampi) and purple (saki) quahaug beads are traditionally used as adornment and woven into belts to recall oral traditions and validate treaties. Badges of position and wealth, tubular wampum beads became part of tribal rites and ceremonies and were used as offerings of peace, compensation, prizes, and to support marriage proposals. Wampum was believed to be a passport to the Spirit World.

Today, beautiful wampum jewelry is made from the shell of the quahaug (quahog), a hard-shell clam known as Mercenaria merinaria.

These shells are one of the hardest in the world and can be found all along the North Atlantic seaboard. They are becoming scarce and valuable. The shells need to be free from natural defects and blemishes caused by the tiny organisms that live on them. Today, most of the shells must be rejected because they contain very little purple or are all white.

Wampum beads are difficult to make. Individual pieces are cut from the shell to reveal as much natural beauty as possible. The shell becomes brittle from the heat of cutting and drilling and the work must be done under water! It requires a skilled artisan to create these beautiful pieces.