This round bead is made of the mineral carnelian, a variety of chalcedony that is colored reddish-brown because of iron oxide in its composition. Although the origin of this bead is unknown, it undoubtedly traveled a long distance to reach James Fort. Carnelian bead production began as early as the fifth millennium, so it is possible that this bead also traveled for a very long time! Maritime and overland trade beginning as early as the first century BCE carried carnelian beads far and wide, and carnelian jewelry became associated with prestigious individuals in many cultures.
India is often identified as the epicenter of carnelian bead production and trade. From there, carnelian beads spread to Southeast Asia and East Africa. However, other production sites have been identified, including in Bulgaria, the Oman peninsula, Armenia, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Archaeological discoveries in South America, particularly in Columbia, suggest carnelian bead making may have occurred there as well.
The Jamestown collection contains only 22 carnelian beads, half of which were recovered from features that predate 1624. They are just one example of international trade that occurred during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, which resulted in materials from all over the world being brought to Virginia.