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A vintage “Chaco-style” hand-rolled shell and stone bead

“Heishi” necklace from Santo Domingo Pueblo, NM, c. 1960’s-70’s

Talk about a real blast from the past. Pueblo people have been making bead necklaces like this one around here for the past thousand years or so. Pieces like this are proof positive that there is no great mystery where the Anasazi peoples of the ancient prehistoric Southwest, from places like Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, went when they left those vast village complexes, they’re alive and well and living right here in the Rio Grande Valley.

These 20th Century versions are evidence of a cultural continuity which has existed here in this region through these many centuries, a continuation of an ancient form of adornment which Pueblo people were wearing at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde back in the 11th Century. This wonderful historic strand of hand-rolled shell and stone beads was made at the Santo Domingo Pueblo just a hundred or so miles as the crow flies from their old ancestral homeland at Chaco canyon. The making of shell and stone bead “Heishi" necklaces is a particular specialty of the Santo Domingo Pueblo and for generations their necklaces have been highly-desired and purchased and traded for far and wide.

We do not know the name of the artist who created this marvelous piece but he or she was a true master of the craft; the beads are beautifully and painstakingly hand cut and rolled to a marvelous smoothness and evenness. The variously-colored beads are made of two types of white shell, dark brown shell, pipestone, turquoise and serpentine. The beads are slightly graduated in size from 1/2” or so in diameter in the center of necklace down to about 1/4” in diameter at the ends. The necklace measures 7 3/4" top to bottom while lying flat on a table. The overall circumference is 16 1/2” end-to-end measured while completely opened up. The necklace is finished with a simple old-style silver hook and eye closure. The necklace weighs a satisfying and very comfortable 54 grams or 1 7/8 ounces and it is in excellent original condition.

This elegant, very wearable piece is a perfect synthesis of ancient and modern; a true connection between the Southwest’s ancient Puebloan past to its vibrant Pueblo culture today as well as one mighty beautiful, well-made piece of jewelry that’s every bit as striking and classic today as its predecessors were back in 1075 A.D.

Price $675

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Cliff Palace ruin at Mesa Verde, Colorado

Centuries ago, some of the ancient cliff dwellers of the Mesa Verde migrated south from Colorado into New Mexico and some of their descendants eventually ended up in the Northern Rio Grande River valley and Galisteo Basin where, after various further migrations, some of their descendants live on today in the Santa Clara, San Juan, San Ildefonso, Tesuque, Santo Domingo, Cochiti  and Jemez Pueblos in New Mexico and in the Hopi villages of Northern Arizona

Pueblo Bonito ruin at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Centuries ago, some Chacoan villagers migrated to the south, east and west and some of their descendants live on today in the New Mexico Pueblos of Acoma, Zuni, Laguna, Isleta, Zia, Santa Ana, Jemez, Sandia, Santo Domingo, Cochiti and San Felipe.

A selection of prehistoric shell and stone jewelry excavated

at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico