Manufactured Articles of Rainy River Mounds

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Manufactured Articles of Rainy River Mounds

1. Stone Implements. The stone articles found, no doubt form a very small proportion of the implements used by the lost race. I am able to show you three classes of implements.

(a.) Scrapers. (See C. Figure 1.) These were made after the same manner and from the same material as the flint arrow heads, found so commonly all over this continent. They are usually of an oval or elongated diamond shape, of various thicknesses, but thin at the edges. Their purpose seems to have been to assist in skinning the game, the larger for larger game, the smaller for rabbits and the smaller fur bearing animals. Probably these implements were also used for scraping the hides or skins manufactured into useful articles.

(b.) Stone Axes and Malls. In the mound on Red River was found the beautiful axe of crystalline limestone, which approaches marble. From the absence of stone so far as we know of this kind in this neighborhood, it is safe to conclude that it came from a distant locality. There are also gray stone celts and hammers used for crushing corn, for hammering wood and bark for the canoes, and other such like purposes, in time of peace; and serving as formidable weapons in time of war. In the mound on the Red River a skull was discovered having a deep depression in the broken wall, as if crushed in by one of these implements.

(c.) Stone Tubes. (See B Fig. 1.) These are among the most difficult of all the mound-builders’ remains to give an opinion upon. They are chiefly made of a soft stone something like the pipestone used by the present Indians which approaches soapstone. The hollow tubes (see figure B.) vary from three to six inches in length, and are about one-half an inch in diameter. They seem to have been bored out by some sharp instrument. Schoolcraft, certainly a competent Indian authority states that these tubes were employed for astronomical purposes, that is to look at the stars. This is unlikely; for though the race, with which I shall try to identify our mound builders are said, in regions further south, to have left remains showing astronomical knowledge, yet a more reasonable purpose is suggested for the tubes. From the teeth marks around the rim, the tubes were plainly used in the mouth, and it is becoming generally agreed that they were conjuror’s cupping instruments for sucking out as the medicine men pretended to be able to do the disease from the body. The custom survives in some of the present Indian tribes. A lady friend of mine informs me that she has a bone whistle taken from a mound in the Red River district.

2. Horn Implements. (See D. Figure 1.) The only implement of this class that we have yet found is the fish spear head (Fig. D.). It was probably made from the antlers of a deer killed in the chase. Its barbed edge indicates that it was used for spearing fish. It is in a fair state of preservation.

3. Copper. No discovery of the mounds so fills the mind of the Archaeologist with joy as that of copper implements. Copper mining has now by the discovery in the Lake Superior region, of mining shafts long deserted, in which copper was quarried by stone hammers on a large scale, been shown to have been pursued in very ancient times on this continent. It is of intense interest for us to know that not only are there mines found on the south side of Lake Superior, but also at Isle Royale, on the north side just at the opening of Thunder Bay, and immediately contiguous to the Grand Portage, where the canoe route to Rainy River, so late as our own century, started from Lake Superior. According to the American Geologists the traces for a mile are found of an old copper mine on this Island. One of the pits opened showed that the excavation had been made in the solid rock to the depth of nine feet, the walls being perfectly smooth. A vein of native copper eighteen inches thick was discovered at the bottom. Here is found also, unless I am much mistaken, the mining location whence the Takawgamis of Rainy River obtained their copper implements. Two copper implements are in our possession, one found by Mr. E. McColl in the grand mound, and the other by Mr. Alexander Baker in a small mound adjoining this.

(a.) Copper Needle or Drill. (See A. Fig. 1.) This was plainly used for some piercing or boring purpose. It is hard, yields with difficulty to the knife, and is considered by some to have been tempered. It may have been for drilling out soft stone implements, or was probably used for piercing as a needle soft fabrics of bark and the like, which were being sewed together.

(b.) Copper Cutting Knife. (See E. Fig. 1.) This, has evidently been fastened into a wooden handle. It may have been used for cutting leather, being in the shape of a saddler’s knife, or was perhaps more suited for scraping the hides and skins of animals being prepared for use.

Some twenty miles above the mound on the Rainy River at Fort Frances a copper chisel buried in the earth was found by Mr. Pither, then H. B. Company agent, and was given by him to the late Governor McTavish. The chisel was ten inches long, was well tempered, and was a good cutting instrument. Another copper implement is in the possession of our Society, which was found buried in the earth 100 miles west of Red River.

All these, I take it, were made from copper obtained from Isle Royale on Lake Superior.

4. Shell Ornaments. Traces are found in the mound, of the fact that the decorative taste, no doubt developed in all ages, and in all climes, was possessed by the Takawgamis.

(a.) Sea Shells. Important as pointing to the home and trading centers of the mound builders is the presence among the debris of the mound, of sea shells. We have three specimens found in the grand mound. Two of them seem to belong to the genus Natica, the other to Marginella. They have all been cut or ground down on the side of the opening of the shell, so that two holes permit the passage of a string, by which the beads thus made are strung together. The fact that the genera to which the shells belong are found in the sea, as well as their highly polished surface show these to be marine; and not only so but from the tropical seas, either we suppose from the Gulf of Mexico or from the Californian coast.

(b.) Fresh Water Shells. In all the mounds yet opened, examples of the Unio, or River Mussel, commonly known as the clam have been found. They are usually polished, cut into symmetrical shapes, and have holes bored in them. We have one which was no doubt used as a breast ornament, and was hung by a string around the neck. In the bottom of a nearly complete pottery cup, found in the grand mound, which went to pieces as we took it out, there was lying a polished clam shell. The clam still abounds on Rainy River. Six miles above the mound, we saw gathered together by an industrious housewife hundreds of the same species of clam, whose shells she was in the habit of pulverizing for the benefit of her poultry.

Cup found in Mound at Rainy River, Aug 22nd, 1884.
Cup found in Mound at Rainy River, Aug 22nd, 1884.

5. Pottery. (a.) Broken. It seems to be a feature of every mound that has been opened that fragments of pottery have been unearthed. The Society has in its possession remains of twenty or thirty pottery vessels. They are shown to be portions of different pots, by their variety of marking. The pottery is of a coarse sort, seemingly made by hand and not upon a wheel, and then baked. The markings were made upon the soft clay, evidently with a sharp instrument, or sometimes with the finger nail. Some pieces are found hard and well preserved; others are rapidly disintegrating. As stated already, in the grand mound, a vessel some five inches in diameter was dug up by one of the workers, filled with earth, which though we tried earnestly to save it, yet went to pieces in our hands. The frequency with which fragments of pottery are found in the mounds has given rise to the theory that being used at the time of the funeral rites the vessel was dashed to pieces as was done by some ancient nations in the burial of the dead. This theory is made very doubtful indeed by the discovery of the

(b.) Complete Pottery Cup. So far as I know this is the only complete cup now in existence in the region northwest of Lake Superior, though several others are said to have been discovered and been sent to distant friends of the finders. This cup, belonging now to the Historical Society was found in the grand mound, in company with charred bones, skulls, and other human bones, lumps of red ochre, and the shells just described. The dimensions of the cup are as follows:

Mean diameter at top of rim 2.09 inches
Greatest mean diameter 3.03 inches
Height 2.49 inches
Thickness of material 0.092 inches
Weight – oz.

Whether the cup was intended for use as a burial urn, or simply for ordinary use it is difficult to say.



MLA Source Citation:

A Lost Race Described by Dr. Bryce, President of the Historical Society of Manitoba, Season 1884-85 AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 30 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/manufactured-articles-of-rainy-river-mounds.htm - Last updated on Jul 9th, 2012


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