Posts Tagged With: Native Americans

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

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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