Buffalo with Greek Key or Eternal Life symbol above.
What is Overlay?
Native American overlay pieces are made of two layers of sterling silver. The bottom layer is a solid piece while the top layer has a cutout design. The cutout layer is placed over the bottom layer and the two pieces are "sweated" together, heated so that they become one solid piece of sterling silver. The bottom layer, or background, that shows through the cut out portion of the top layer is often darkened for contrast.
Hopi silversmiths typically texture the background layer with hash marks while Navajo artists often leave the background smooth. Hopi artists tend to use geometric designs and symbols similar to those used in their pottery and baskets. Navajo silversmiths tend to create scenes depicting everyday life using people, animals, buildings and landscapes to tell a story - this style is called "overlay storyteller jewelry". Read more about overlay here.
Buffalo or Bison?
Because North American bison resembled old world (Asian and African) buffalo, early explorers and settlers called them buffalo, and the name stuck. Although it is a misnomer, the name buffalo is still used interchangeably with bison. One of the physical differences between the old world buffalo and the American bison is the large shoulder hump of the bison. This hump, along with a broad, massive head, short, thick neck and small hindquarters give the animal its rugged appearance.
The Buffalo nickel or Indian Head nickel was a copper-nickel five-cent piece (75% copper and 25% nickel ) struck by the United States Mint from 1913 to 1938. It was designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser.
In a 1947 radio interview, Fraser discussed his design: "Well, when I was asked to do a nickel, I felt I wanted to do something totally Americana coin that could not be mistaken for any other country's coin. It occurred to me that the buffalo, as part of our western background, was 100% American, and that our North American Indian fitted into the picture perfectly."