Posts Tagged With: American Indians

Of the Wearing of Rings in Ancient Times

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Prehistoric Native American Rings

Rings are interesting things.  Although I have gone through certain phases of my life wearing rings or not wearing any rings at all, the reasons folks have had for wearing rings throughout prehistory and history is a fairly new interest.  I suppose it started when I noticed that a Canadian couple I met in England wear their wedding rings on the ring fingers of their right hands, instead of the more common American practice of wearing them on the ring fingers of the left hand.  An interesting discussion of such things can be found on this blog : https://humanpast.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/rings-and-things/

Shopping in an Atlanta charity shop recently, this lately dormant interest was reawakened by a serendipitous find.  What is evidently one of the classic works on rings is now happily in my possession, and is an amazing introduction to the history of rings up to that time.  Rings for the Finger: From the Earliest Known Times to the Present, with Full Descriptions of the Origin, Early Making, Materials, the Archaeology,  History, For Affection,  For Love, For Engagement, For Wedding, Commemorative, Mourning, Etc. (1917) by George Frederick Kunz is nothing if not an in depth treatise on the myriad mysteries of rings!

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Early Finger Rings

It seems that among the men of ancient Rome only senators were allowed to wear gold rings until later in the Empire when the cohesion holding together the social fabric began to melt and it became all the rage among all classes.  Also, prehistoric peoples of the  southwestern Native American tribes wore rings made of shell, some being incised with natural images like lightning and clouds.  Pre-columbian copper rings have also been unearthed in Indian mounds in Ohio, and a few stone rings, which I must presume were made of soapstone (steatite) have also been excavated in Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states.

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Kunz thought that the custom of wearing rings in the Occidental world derived ultimately from the Orient or from the  Egyptians, who reduced seals of rank worn about the neck or arm to rings for the finger.  From Egypt the practice spread to Greece and to the Etruscans, from whom the Romans adopted it.  There are even mythological tales of ring-wearing, such as the one in which Zeus freed Prometheus but commanded him to wear a ring made of one of the links of his Caucasian chain set with a tiny piece of the rock to which he had been chained.  In this manner his 30,000 year punishment could continue in a manner more healthy to his liver.  Yes, Prometheus had his own beast of burden, and it had nothing to do with alcohol!

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“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937

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Categories: Archaeology, Art, Artifacts, Cemeteries, Love, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Imaginative Camping, Indian Trails, and British Traders

Early 21st Century Primitive Campsite

Early 21st Century Primitive Campsite

I definitely have greater respect for British classically-trained actors who cut their teeth on Shakespeare and Sophocles, whilst breaking a leg on stage, than I do for Hollywood method actors who feel the need to “live the role” for their latest blockbuster movie. This is precisely the difference between the performances of Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in the thriller “Marathon Man.” However, there is still something to be said for attempting to get into the mindset of the characters we wish to understand by comprehensively researching them, immersing ourselves into similar conditions, and then using our imaginations. This can even be a useful tool for archaeologists attempting to comprehend the lives of the peoples they study. For instance, I study the Creek Indians and the British traders with whom they interacted. And though I can never truly understand all the myriad “primitive” experiences of the Creek or the Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and English traders who traveled the Southeast 300 years ago, sometimes camping out in the woods for a few days helps spark the imagination in ways that can lead to tiny epiphanies.

For example, knowing what camping gear I usually take into the woods does help clarify the kinds of things these traders might have packed on their horses for survival in the deep woods as they crisscrossed the South on ancient Indian trails, and forded or traveled up and down our beautiful rivers. On these sylvan peregrinations, whether by land via foot or pack horse, or by water via pole boat, they visited the towns of the Yamasee, Shawnee, Apalachicola, Cherokee, the Creek Confederation (including towns belonging to the Hitchiti, Muscogee, Yuchi, Chehaw, Westo, etc), and others. But this also means that they spent a great deal of time in between Indian towns, camping in the woods or along rivers or creeks near the preexisting Indian trails connecting them to humanity. Some of these trails still exist today, if you know both the history and where to look for them. There are numerous examples around Middle Georgia, for instance, including those with the poetic-sounding names of Okfuskenene – the “Path to Okfuskee” – and Chelucconeneauhassee – literally the “Old Horse Path.” The former became known to the traders as the Upper Trading Path, while the latter they called the Lower Creek Trading Path.

Major Indian Trails in Georgia, Marion R. Hemperley, 1979

Major Indian Trails in Georgia, Marion R. Hemperley, 1979

Since these traders adopted many of the ways and material culture of the Indians amongst whom they lived, I would not be surprised if they learned how to construct and organize their camping spots from the same source. Perhaps they constructed their camps similar to the Indian camp depicted by the Salzburger emigrant Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck, who arrived in Georgia from England in 1734, kept an important journal, and used his considerable artistic talents to document the Indians and natural history of his new home.

An Indian Camp, Georgia, Von Reck, ca. 1734

An Indian Camp, Georgia, Von Reck, ca. 1734

Sitting in my own camp before a fire in the woods one morning after eating some fried bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast, I listened to the sounds of the waking woods, drank some strong black coffee, and seemed to be able to imagine human beings not so different from myself camping under similar conditions while listening to the same sounds I could still hear hundreds of years later. What did they think about though, these traders who had left “civilization” behind and come to the forests of Southeastern North America to begin again? Upon arriving in Charleston or Savannah, what made them choose to leave other Europeans behind and strike out as explorers and traders across a landscape completely outside of their own experience? The trails were like arteries, carrying them away from the heart of the European coastal settlements, but then changing into veins carrying them toward the heart of the Indian towns.

And what of their hearts? Did they see only money, only personal advantage in their dealings with their trading partners? We know that by 1715 the Yamasee and the Creek felt mistreated and abused by many of these traders, and this led to the greatest and most dangerous Indian war that occurred in the colonial South – the Yamasee War. But the traders also seemed to prefer living amongst the Indians, adopting their buckskin clothes and more easy-going lifestyle. So these foreigners truly felt an affinity for the natives, though each trader lived a double life. He would have to bring new trade goods in and take the results of his trade back out. And what did the British want that the Indians had? Deerskins and Indian slaves. Deerskins were turned into European leather goods, book covers, hats, and other items of apparel, and Indian slaves were sent to to work on Caribbean plantations where nearly all of them quickly died from diseases.

In fact, the currency of the backwoods, and for the Southern colonies during their earliest decades, was usually deerskin. According to the “Journals of the Commissioners of the Indian Trade,” the prices for trade goods in 1716 were established as follows: Guns (30 buckskins each); Pistols (20 each), a Cutlass (8 each); Duffield blankets (14 each); Hatchets (2 each); and 1 buckskin each for rum mixed with 1/3 water per bottle, or fifty bullets, or three strings of beads, or eighteen flints, or a pair of scissors.

Did the traders, who usually worked for wealthier men, merely inventory their goods and chuckle as they ruminated on their portion of the profits as they made their trips back and forth from the coastal cities to the interior Indian towns? Did they feel relieved to be away from the cities? Were they happy to see old friends in the woods and towns, and did they enjoy making new ones? Did they feel apprehension for some unseen and unknown foe while on the trails? Did they have remedies for keeping away ticks and mosquitoes, were they worried about alligators, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, and did they study the ways of the possum, the raccoon, the bear, the panther, and the deer? Did they keep journals, now lost to time, documenting their lives amongst the Ochisee, Okmulgee, Kawita, and Kasita?

Many of these things we shall never know. But it is a very enjoyable experience to camp in the woods away from the sights and sounds of modernity, and to imagine for a few moments – at dawn or dusk when all the world is quiet – that the year is A. D. 1700, and that the people, plants, birds, woods, and animals are all yet to be classified and studied. And all of them are a wonder to behold!

The Woods of Natural Wonder

The Woods of Natural Wonder

Categories: Archaeology, Exploration, Indian Trails | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Continental Divide Over Displaying the Dead: Celtic and American Indian Burial Exhibits

Maiden Castle, Dorset, England

Maiden Castle, Dorset, England

Maiden Castle was a Celtic Iron Age earthen enclosure and fort begun about 600 B.C. and expanded in the following several centuries.  It was attacked and taken by Legio II Augusta (the second Augustan legion), which was commanded by Roman general Vespasian, who later became emperor.  The photo above shows the Romano-British temple on the hilltop, and the surrounding landscape of Dorset – a truly beautiful county on the south coast of England.  Excavations recovered locally-produced pottery, projectile points, and skeletons of Celtic warriors killed in the battle, including one (below, left) with a Roman ballista bolt in his vertebrae.  Artifacts from the excavations, including several burials, are on display today in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.

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Celtic Warriors Buried at Maiden Castle, Dorset, and now on display at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester

It is interesting to note the relaxed manner British museums in general have toward exhibiting the remains of what are seen as the ancestors of modern-day Britons.  This can be compared and contrasted in an interesting fashion to American museums, which rarely exhibit burials or grave goods anymore due to a relatively new-found sensitivity over displaying the remains of Native Americans.  Such is the case partly because the indigenous peoples of North America are not normally seen as being the ancestors of the average American, and partly due to reaction against the complete and utter lack of such sympathy in the past.  Interestingly, many Americans today might be surprised to learn that their DNA exhibits some amount of admixture of Native American ancestry – particularly if one is from the American South where contact between Europeans and American Indians began almost 500 years ago.  Additionally, the DNA of most modern American Indians – no matter where they live – contains quite a bit of European ancestry.  More information on DNA studies of Southeastern Native Americans can be found in articles by Bolnick and Smith (2003) and Bolnick, Bolnick, and Smith (2006). Another highly interesting study into British DNA, showing that Celtic bloodlines are quite prevalent in today’s Brit, was recently performed by professors at the University of Oxford – http://www.oxfordtoday.ox.ac.uk/features/what-makes-british.

“But thou shalt not die unknown…my bards are many, O Carthon! their songs descend to future times. The children of years to come shall hear the fame of Carthon, when they sit round the burning oak, and the night is spent in songs of old.  The hunter, sitting in the heath, shall hear the rustling blast, and raising his eyes, behold the rock where Carthon fell….Three days they mourned above Carthon; on the fourth his father died. In the narrow plain of the rock they lie; a dim ghost defends their tomb.  There lovely Moina is often seen when the sunbeam darts on the rock and all around is dark. There she is seen, Malvina; but not like the daughters of the hill.  Her robes are from the stranger’s land, and she is still alone!

James Macpherson, excerpted from Carthon in The Works of Ossian, 1765

Categories: Archaeology, Museums | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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