Recycled Glass Bead Necklace

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Mary Jo Arnoldi, Ph.D.

Chair Anthropology Department, Curator of African Ethnology

Photo by Jim DiLoreto, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi is an anthropologist who has lived and worked in Senegal and in Mali for over 40 years. Her interest in the region and its people began when she lived in Senegal for two years while she was in the Peace Corps. She often returns to West Africa to research this region's extraordinary art traditions. Her research combines her interest of art history and anthropology, and focuses on the role that art plays in the shaping of culture. She is currently the chair of the Anthropology department and Curator of African Ethnology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. She played an important part in the creation of the museum's permanent exhibit "African Voices."

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.
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Personal adornments can come in many forms
Photo by Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropology, E428590

About Personal Adornments

Along with textiles, people have been decorating the body for hundreds of thousands of years. Personal adornments come in many shapes and sizes and can be used to signify different things to and about the individual wearing them. Personal adornments are often thought of in the form of jewelry, but they can also be textiles, headdresses, bags, or personal belongings that are important to the wearer. For example, many Native American tribes use beading to signify family ties or social status. Humans have often made jewelry and other adornments out of items that were available in their environment. Shells from the ocean and beads made of glass are two popular materials. They can be strung together or used to embellish textiles to show personal style or individualism. Personal adornments have also been used to signify leadership or to represent rites of passage. In some cultures they are used to protect the wearer against evil spirits. What sort of personal adornments do you wear that have meaning?

Baule woodcarvers at work, Yagolikro village, Ivory Coast
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1972. Image no. EEPA EECL 6900. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

About Humans and the Environment

Humans have always manipulated their environment, whether by acquiring food, making and using tools, or other aspects of daily life. They are constantly interacting with their environment on a daily basis. By using the available materials, humans have created shelter, made tools, created containers and vessels, and produced items of personal and cultural significance. Many of these resources are naturally occurring, such as stones, minerals, animal bones, or organic fibers from plants, while others are made from combining materials. The process of acquiring these materials and the manufacturing process can be traditional practices that are passed down from one generation to another. Because materials are unique to the location of different communities and cultures, by studying the types of materials, as well as animal remains found and the processes used to manipulate them, anthropologists and researchers can learn about the daily activities and lifestyles of the cultures they are studying. In what ways do you interact with your environment on a daily basis?

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