This type of glass bead is named after a 16th century Spanish port on an island off the coast of Venezuela where this unique bead was first recognized by archaeologists. Two varieties of Nueva Cadiz beads are commonly found in the James Fort excavations. One is longer and larger in diameter, with a light blue or turquoise colored exterior layer of glass. The other is quite a bit shorter and with a smaller diameter, with a dark blue exterior layer of glass. Both types are square when viewed in cross section and almost always contain three layers of glass. Both blue colors would have been a desirable trade item to the Virginia Indians who, according to reports, highly valued beads that were the color of the sky.
Bead-making occurred mostly in Venice, Italy up until the 1590s when many bead makers seeking religious freedom emigrated to Amsterdam. As production continued in Amsterdam, slight changes occurred to some types of beads, certain types ceased to be made, and some new types were produced. These changes over time allow archaeologists to use beads excavated to better understand the dates of features found on a site, and to see changes in trade as these different types were introduced or fell out of fashion or use.
Nueva Cadiz beads are one such example, as there is little evidence that the smaller navy or dark blue Nueva Cadiz beads were ever produced in Amsterdam or France. This type of Nueva Cadiz bead is only found on late 16th/early 17th century North American Spanish colonial sites. Therefore, the beads found at the English settlement at Jamestown more closely resemble bead assemblages from Spanish sites, indicating that there may have been some kind of local exchange of these Venetian beads. The turquoise/light blue variety is found on other North American sites, including those with slightly later 17th century dates. Therefore, the navy blue beads are likely to be slightly earlier in their production than the turquoise variety.
Over 800 Nueva Cadiz beads have been excavated from the James Fort site thus far, and both types together comprise over 12% of the beads in the Jamestown collection. More navy/dark blue Nueva Cadiz beads than turquoise/light blue ones have been found. While both varieties have been found in many early fort period features (ca. 1607-1610), the majority were found in the West Bulwark Trench.