Their shells were traded near the Pacific Ocean and then trekked by foot far inland, to the deserts and high plateaus of the Southwest in pre-Columbian times.
There the Anasazi and other Native American artisans cut abalone shell into thin disk beads and geometric pendants, and crafted inlaid and mosaic ornaments combining shell with other precious materials, such as jet and turquoise.
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This process leaves a thin deposit on their surface of tiny metallic particles, which break up light waves into the colors of the spectrum, much as water droplets refract sunlight to create a rainbow.
This iridescent play of light causes the underlying color of the beads to shift, sometimes considerably.
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See Also: Bauxite Beads Also called azagba, zagba, or adjaba, these large powder glass beads are made by the Krobo people of Ghana.
Usually formed in clay molds, the beads measure up to 5 cm long and range from nearly cylindrical to barrel shaped, and sometimes biconical.
Contemporary abalone shell beads and pendants made in the Philippines also often feature inlay and mosaic work.