My obsession with the Squash Blossom Necklace

The squash blossom necklace is one of the most familiar pieces of Native American culture. Even though the squash blossom is associated with Navajo silversmiths and has become became the keystone of Indian jewelry, this beautiful form cannot be considered native to the Navajo culture. Rather it is a fascinating merger of influences that can be traced in history back hundreds of years.

The Navajo squash blossom necklace is maybe the most identifiable Native American piece of Squash Blossom Necklace

You will find the necklace surrounded by debate. It is speculated that the blossom comes from the pomegranate, but other viewpoints exist. The same is true about the naja, the inverted crescent pendant. Historians will take you back to the Roman Empire for the motivation behind the design, while others tell of a Navajo origin. No matter where the designs of the squash blossom came from, they are now thought of as Native American. Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi artists have all made these remarkable pieces, of course following the influences of their tribe’s preferred style.

New Mexico designated the Native American squash blossom necklace as the official state necklace in 2011; one of the most characteristic of Southwest Indian jewelry designs.  The squash blossom necklace was not traditional until after the arrival of Europeans, when Navajo silversmiths adopted the crescent-shaped “naja” of the Spanish into their own artwork. For thousands of years, symbols have told stories and have also served as a method to gain power over the forces and the phenomena which effect a society or a person.

The inverted crescent pendant on squash-blossom necklaces, called the ‘Naja’ by the Navajo,  is found in various design forms throughout the world cultures.  As a crescent, this form goes back as far as the Paleolithic period.  It is mentioned in the book of Judges as an ornament worn around the necks of camels.  In the Phoenician culture, Astarte was the goddess of fertility and she was represented by the inverted crescent as well.   As pendants, the inverted crescent has also been found in ancient Roman, and Crete artifacts.  

During the Middle Ages, the Moors rode out of the East and conquered lands in a westerly direction including eight centuries of occupation in Spain.  When the Spaniards came to South and Central America, they brought that same idea with them for the protection of their horses and of their soldiers.  Thus, the Moors taught the Spanish, who taught the Mexicans, who taught the Navajo their belief systems.  

Coming from another direction in North America, the inverted crescent symbol was on various types of trade goods brought from the East coast by other Europeans.  The crescent pendant was used from the early 1800’s on, by the Shawnee, Delaware, Cheyenne, Comanche and Navajo tribes, among others.   However, metal work of various European influences was found in the southwest as early as the 1700’s.  At this time, the Navajo were fierce warriors who more often raided but occasionally traded with their neighbors, the Plains Tribes.    

One symbol of the squash blossom can be found on ancient petroglyphs at the Saguaro National Monument in Arizona.    It is believed that the flower symbol that is seen in the necklace was brought to the Navajo at the turn of the century, the 1800’s to the 1900’s.   The blossom is represented with long petals beginning to open and a sphere attached at the base of the flower.  The flower pendant is a representation of the Spanish-Mexican pomegranate and a variation of this design can be found in the motif of Granada, Spain.

In the Americas, Spanish colonial gentlemen wore variations of these pomegranate flower blossoms on their shirts, capes and trousers as silver adornments.   Some squash blossom necklaces that date from the 1880’s and 1890’s were made with hand-hammered Mexican silver coins, with the Naja in the same design as the Moor horse bridle pendants.