As recently as 2008, Emily Rux had no idea of the significance of wampum, the traditional shell beads of the Eastern Woodlands tribes of the indigenous people of North America.
It was during that year that she and her husband, who is on active duty in the Coast Guard, moved to USCG Air Station Cape Cod (formerly Otis Air Force Base). As they began exploring the Cape, wampum was something that began to cross the path of Rux, a New York native and anthropologist/historic archaeologist, more and more.
“I had heard of the word wampum, but had no visual association with it,” said Rux, who will present a talk, “Changes in the Social, Symbolic and Economic Uses of Wampum in Southern New England,” at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History on Monday afternoon.
“When we would go and visit all the different towns, especially in Provincetown, there were beads made of quahog shells everywhere. I wasn’t really sure what it was, or why it was such a prominent tourist item. So I started looking into it. It all sounded so interesting.”
Rux, who was working on her bachelor’s degree at Bridgewater State University at the time, discussed it with her advisor, and he suggested she do a research project on it as a directed study. It wasn’t long before her paper was published in the Massachusetts Archaeological Society Bulletin.