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Open Access Publications from the University of California

"Women's Money": Types and Distributions of Pine Nut Beads in North California, Southern Oregon, and Northwestern Nevada


The aesthetic trait represented by pine nut beads appears to be centered among the Wintu, Shasta, and Karok. From there it spreads widely across tribal boundaries down the trade routes of the Klamath, Trinity, and Salmon rivers to the Pacific coast, as well as in an eastward direction along the Pit River and on out into the northern Great Basin. Trade, rather than mass population movement, was undoubtedly the means of transmission of pine nut beads in prehistoric times. Since pine nut beads were so often associated with women and their apparel, the movement of women from tribe to tribe may have contributed to its appearance outside the core areas. An expanded trade in goods and the exchange of women through marriage that followed the introduction of the horse in northern California circa A.D. 1800 (Layton 1981) probably influenced some of the spread. Why pine nut trade to the south was inhibited is not as yet understood. It does not seem likely to have been due to competition with clam shell disc beads. Such beads were real money items and thus represented wealth as well as decoration. The best explanation for the limited spread seems to be related to time. The trait had not been around long enough to be accepted by many of the more southerly tribes.

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