Frit-core bead

This bead is one of a kind in the Jamestown collection. Known as a frit-core bead, the interior core is made of sand or crushed glass. Compositional analysis identified that the bead’s white part is a clay type glaze and the dark applied decoration contains lead.

Frit-core beads were most likely manufactured in France and they are commonly found on French New World sites that date to the late 16th century. However, this bead excavated from the first well at James Fort dates to the early 17th century—slightly later than others of its kind and is also from a site far more southern geographically. With so few of this type identified in North America, it is possible that this bead was manufactured in the 16th century and traveled quite a long way to reach Virginia. It is undoubtedly an exciting outlier of its type.

This bead is also unique in its decoration. Most other frit-core beads have an opposite color pattern with applied white decorations on a dark, typically blue background. Like other beads, it may have come to Jamestown through trade. If this is the case, this artifact highlights just how complex American Indians’ trade economy was before the English arrival.