The collections at Jamestown contain over 10,000 beads! Made of bone, glass, copper alloy, shell, and a few other material types, they exhibit a variety of shapes and colors. The gooseberry bead is glass, oval-shaped, translucent, and contains lengthwise white stripes reminiscent of the berry from which they get their name.
The Jamestown archaeological assemblage contains over 250 individual gooseberry beads. This bead type has been archaeologically recovered from early glassworks in the Netherlands, where they were made as early as 1597 (Baart 1988). Analysis of their exact chemical composition would indicate if they were made in the Netherlands rather than in Venice, where many other types of beads in the collection were made. Gooseberry beads likely first appeared in North America in the early 1600’s (Deagan 1987:1, Little 2010). In the Mid-Atlantic and South, gooseberry beads are identified in contexts that date from the late 16th- through the mid-18th centuries. In the Northeastern United States they are found most often on late 16th- and early 17th-century sites (Kenyon and Fitzgerald 1986; Turgeon 2001; Wray 1983). Although they can be found in later 17th-century contexts at Jamestown, most were recovered from James Fort period contexts (ca. 1607-1624).
Gooseberry beads were made by drawing multiple layers of molten glass along a wire or rod with either eight, 11, or 12 stripes placed between the layers. As the glass cooled, the beads were cut to size and would eventually slide off of the wire easily. Examples recovered at Jamestown contain fewer stripes than those produced in the Netherlands, which typically contain 13 or 18 white stripes per bead. The difference in number of stripes is interesting. Perhaps these beads were less refined, and therefore were sent with the colonists for trade rather than personal use. Or, were they were less expensive to the Jamestown settlers? Maybe fewer stripes provide evidence for a different manufacture source. Still a mystery to be solved!