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Interpreting the Evidence

Penn Treaty Wampum Belt, c. 1911

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Colonial America
    Indigenous Peoples of North America

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Penn Treaty Wampum Belt, c. 1911 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
The Penn Treaty Wampum Belt, circa 1911.
Historical Context
Indigenous groups used wampum beads to make belts and strings.  Beads were made from white and purple shells of the quahog clam.  They were put together in patterns to indicate important events.  The designs of wampum belts were memorized by elders; they were used as “written” records for the tribe to:
    -   call a council meeting
    -   speak at a council meeting
    -   elect a chief
    -   keep records and deeds
    -   show times of sorrow
    -   make a treaty official

Wampum belts were not used as money by the Indigenous groups.  When the beaded records were no longer needed, the belts were unstrung so that the beads could be used again.

The Onondagas were the Keepers of the Fire for the Iroquois League.  Since they were the "capital" of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Onondagas also were entrusted with possession of the wampum belts.

Essential Question
How does culture influence political interactions?
Check for Understanding
Describe the object and explain the role of this object in political negotiations.
Historical Challenges
Research the different uses for wampum and explain why they are now universally thought to have been used as money by Indigenous people.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Research different patterns used for wampum belts. Using graph paper, create a wampum belt using an original pattern.
Science: Look at different types of clam shells, including quahog shells. Why do you think the quahog shell was the favorite material for wampum be