Inspired Conversations: Pueblo Trade Routes

Pueblo Trade Routes Jewelry Baskets Drums

Since time immemorial, Pueblo People of the Southwest have traded goods with neighboring Pueblos and tribes through widespread networks and systems of trade.

From macaw feathers seen in traditional dance regalia to obsidian tools and pottery, trading became an important form of commerce, a way to sustain life, a means of communication, and a way for communities to create connections and alliances among cultures.

At Indian Pueblo Store, we hope to be a resource of information and have prepared the following guide to help better understand some of the commonly traded items seen today in American Indian art. Sign up for our newsletter.

Shells in the Desert

For hundreds of years, Pueblo people of the Southwest have created beads of turquoise, shell, bone, and stone. Chaco Canyon and other Ancestral Puebloan sites were at the center of major turquoise trade routes that ran from the Pacific Northwest to Central America. In addition to the shells found in the landscape of New Mexico, abalone and spiny oyster shell came to the region from the coast and were among the items traded with tribes along the trade routes. Shells have become an important element in traditional regalia and are commonly used in Native American jewelry.

Santo Domingo Pueblo has become known for creating beautiful shell and gemstone beads by hand. These beads called “heishi,” which means “shell” in the Santo Domingo language of Keres, are prized for their beauty. Necklaces with similar bead styles have been unearthed at Chaco Canyon, making the heishi style of bead one of the oldest forms of jewelry in New Mexico. Traditionally, heishi beads are smooth flat discs, but today the term is used to refer to any small beads that are strung together.



Woven in Tradition 

Once used as a utilitarian household item, today Native American basketry is one of the most valuable and widely collected items. For centuries, baskets were made in a wide variety of forms and styles and used for carrying, serving, storage and more. In addition to their functional value, baskets over time were also appreciated for their reflection of culture and coloring using natural pigments. Basket weaving was and still is a cherished skill and an important tradition that has been passed on through generations. In the Southwest, Pueblo basket-weaving materials were often made from sumac, willow, or yucca in both coiled and woven styles and traded. Basketry remains a cherished art form that today carries on an important legacy in a timeless work of art.


The Heartbeat of Mother Earth

Native American instruments, including flutes, whistles, rattles, pipes, and drums, have been created since time immemorial using the resources of the land. In Pueblo culture, the drumbeat represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth and the beating drum accompanies ceremonies and dance. Traditional Pueblo drums are created from trees native to northern New Mexico including aspen, cottonwood, and pine. First, the log is stripped of bark, then hollowed out and dried. Historically, drum heads were made from elk, buffalo, or deer hides, which were commonly traded. Today, contemporary Pueblo artists often use cow hides to complete their drums. Traditional Pueblo drums are works of great precision and skill, representing an ancient art that has been passed down for centuries.


Today, Native American artists continue to create and teach the next generation in both traditional and contemporary styles. From traditional clay pottery to handblown glass, each artist is inspired by our cultural heritage, ancestors who gathered elements through trade to complete their own pieces, and family legacies that have been passed down.

The Indian Pueblo Store offers an unsurpassed collection of original, handcrafted artwork from talented Native American artists. Browse the Indian Pueblo Store’s extensive collection of jewelry, weavings, and Native American instruments. Plus, stay connected and up-to-date on the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s extensive offerings and experiences. Subscribe to our newsletter today!


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