Around the very beginning of the 17th century in Northeast America, as France expanded its colonial hold in the region, small cylindrical shell beads, wampum - or "porcelain" to the French - began to be used as objects of exchange between Native Americans and Europeans. Among Native nations, wampum had a well-established social and political use, often adorning prestige objects. Some Iroquoian nations made woven necklaces and strings of beads that served to materialize the word given. In a world of orality where the written word had no place yet, European nations followed native protocols and adopted these "talking beads" to negotiate alliances and treaties. Thus begins a story that spans more than four centuries, during which the meanings and values of wampum evolve with the political and cultural upheavals that affect the region and undermine Amerindian autonomy.