Funeral Food Vase

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Native American Records
Cooking Pot and Vase - Plate 22
Cooking Pot and Vase – Plate 22

The idea of placing food in or near the grave, to serve the departed spirit on its journey to the fancied land of rest in another world, is connected with the ancient belief in a duality of souls. This idea is shown to exist among the present tribes of the United States.1 One of these souls is liberated at death, but the other is compelled to abide with the body; and it is to provide for this, that a dish or vase of food is deposited generally at this day, not in the grave, to be buried with the corpse, but under a close covering of barks erected over the grave.

The ancient Indians placed this food in a vase of unglazed pottery, in the grave. This pottery, as disclosed by graves, is of a dark color, and consists of clay and shells slightly baked. The vase is generally small, sometimes not more than six inches in height, but varying from nine to ten; it is seldom more. It is uniformly without a foot, and with the lip slightly turned, and externally ornamented. The ornaments are impressed on the vase in its soft state, and unpainted.

Nearly every ancient Indian grave that has been opened in the State of Tennessee has one of these ancient vases, or “crocks,” as they are popularly called. Their use can hardly be imagined without adverting to this ancient custom.

The small burial mounds of Florida, along the Gulf coast, are literally filled with these antique vases. These places of sepulchral are locally denominated “feasting mounds,” from an evident impression that the ancient vases were dedicated to some purpose of this kind. It appears to be a peculiarity in those found near the Apalachicola, as observed by Mr. Hitchcock,2 that the bottom of each vase is pierced with a small orifice broken in. In a specimen recently forwarded by Mr. Buckingham Smith, from an island in the Everglades of Florida, it is impossible to decide, from the broken fragments, whether this custom holds good. But it coincides in its make and material, with the specimens from Apalachicola now in the antiquarian collections of the New York Historical Society.

A specimen of this vase in a good state of preservation, was obtained from an antique grave in Ohio, by Dr. A. Crookshanks, in 1844, agreeing in its character with those of Florida. It is entire. The material, a dark-colored, micacious clay, is tempered with shells. It bears the evidence, as to all the specimens examined, of being made by hand. It is unglazed.

Another specimen of the funereal vase was obtained by Mr. Hosmer, from an antique grave opened on the banks of the Genesee River, in New York.

The late Dr. Douglas Houghton obtained fragments of the same species of ware, from some ancient works existing in Chatauque County, New York. This locality is near the village of Fredonia, but a little distance from the banks of Lake Erie. Dr. Houghton found at the same place, and made of the same material, the fragment of a small but curious clay image, which was ornamented with a head-dress resembling very accurately the skin of a bear s head; the nose pointing directly in front.

The great extent of country over which the vases prevail, denote the general prevalence of the custom at the ancient era of these graves, and of the mounds and earth works which exist. The following drawing, (Plate 22, Fig. 3,) which may serve as a type for all, size excepted, is executed from a specimen obtained in Florida.


  1. Proceedings of the New York Historical Society. 

  2. Algonquin. 

MLA Source Citation:

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860. Web. 1 February 2015. - Last updated on Jun 30th, 2014

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