Green chevron beads are sometimes referred to as watermelon beads because of the green, red, and white color combination. They are formed from five layers of glass, each molded into a star-shaped cross section before the next layer is added. The different thickness of the translucent green outer layer over the many-pointed white star below it gives the appearance of stripes, adding to the beads’ resemblance to tiny watermelons.
Green chevron varieties are different from the blue chevron beads more often found at Jamestown in a few important ways beyond just their color. While blue chevrons are associated with the early years of Spanish exploration, green chevrons are typically associated with the mid-17th century, between 1630 and 1650. This later date is based trade bead assemblages from up and down the East Coast and is supported by differences in the way the two types of beads were made. These differences in otherwise very similar bead types highlights broader manufacturing trends throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Trade beads tended to become simpler over time and later chevron bead varieties often have fewer layers, in this case only five instead of the previous seven. Green chevrons were heat treated and tumbled to produce a smoothly rounded bead from a short section of a drawn glass cane, rather than finished with hand-ground facets like the earlier blue varieties. Fewer layers and a batch finishing process would have sped up manufacturing and led to greater uniformity. All six green chevron beads found at Jamestown are a fairly consistent size, around eight mm in diameter, while there is much more variation in the earlier beads.
Heat treated chevron beads, including green varieties, are sometimes associated with Dutch manufacturing. Most of the glass trade beads excavated at Jamestown are believed to have been made in Venice, the main exporter of glass beads in medieval and early post-medieval Europe. However, at the end of the 16th century, some Venetian glassworkers immigrated to the Netherlands and established a competitive glass working industry there that peaked during the 17th century. While there is a great deal of overlap in the varieties of beads produced in both locations, clues that the Jamestown assemblage may have more diverse origins than previously assumed provide exciting research opportunities. Unfortunately, five of the six green chevron beads found at Jamestown were excavated from the Confederate Fort, and the other was discovered in the plowzone. These are disturbed contexts, where the 17th century soil layers that archaeologists rely on to understand when and how an artifact was used at James Fort are no longer intact. Because of this, new research techniques like chemical testing that may reveal the source of the glass will be invaluable for learning more about these beads.