||Glass trade beads are one of the more commonly found European objects at contact-era sites in the Americas. Analyses to date have illuminated two points in the beads’ life-histories—their source of manufacture and “final,” archaeological, site of deposition. In this paper, I consider the circulation of trade beads from a broader perspective, examining the intersecting networks of manufacture, distribution, acquisition, and deposition—specifically discussing the bead assemblage excavated from Mission Santa Catalina de Guale, a 17th-century Spanish Mission located on St. Catherines Island, Georgia.
Combining historical, archaeological, and archaeometric (i.e., x-ray fluorescence spectrometry) data, I consider the overlapping constellations of practice that have shaped the global itineraries of the bead assemblage. I begin by considering temporal and regional patterns of glass elemental signatures, along with historical documents and bead morphological data that document European bead manufacturing guilds structured by learning communities organized through master/apprentice relationships. I then trace temporal and regional distributional patterns of beads into the Americas, examining the interactive networks of consumption and deposition. I conclude by extending the beads’ itineraries into the present—discussing the recent history of their circulation through several research institutions and the hands of several analysts. I suggest such a broad-based examination of the trajectory of manufacture, circulation, deposition, and excavation and analysis can lead to a richer understanding of the multiple meanings and transformations objects undergo throughout their life-histories.