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Chemical Composition of Late 18th- and 19th-Century Glass Beads from Western North America: Clues to Sourcing Beads

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The Sullivans Island glass bead collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History contains over 56,000 beads which date from the late 18th to the late 19th century. Excavated in the 1930s from a site on the Columbia River in the Plateau region of North America, this collection contains examples of most known bead varieties for this time period. Many of the beads conform to varieties that have been attributed to Bohemia, Venice, and China-three of the main bead-producing centers for this time period. One hundred and twenty-four beads were subjected to Laser-Ablation Inductively-Coupled Mass-Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) analysis at the Smithsonian's Materials Conservation Institute to see if the chemical composition of the glass could be correlated with a place of origin. The results revealed several distinct compositional groups, some of which could be linked to geographical areas.

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The Society of Bead Researchers is a non-profit scientific-educational corporation founded in 1981 to foster historical, archaeological, and material cultural research on beads and beadwork of all materials and periods, and to expedite the dissemination of the resultant knowledge. Membership is open to all persons involved in the study of beads, as well as those interested in keeping abreast of current trends in bead research.

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