Wampum are traditional shell beads of the Eastern Woodlands tribes of the indigenous people of North America. Wampum include the white shell beads fashioned from the North Atlantic channeled whelk shell; and the white and purple beads made from the quahog, or Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clam.
Wampum were used as money by the Native Americans, and were kept on strings like Chinese cash. European colonists adopted wampum as their own currency; however, the Europeans' more efficient production of wampum caused inflation and ultimately the obsolescence of wampum as currency. The slang phrases "clams" and "shelling out" come from wampum.
Strings of wampum were also used instead of writing, and were created to record important treaties and historical events, such as the Two Row Wampum Treaty.
By Dean Hanley
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