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Indian Axe

Various stone implements of the antique period of the hunter occupancy of America, have received the name of “Indian Axe.” With what justice this term was applied, in relation to the use made of the European axe of iron, it is proposed to inquire. The ancient Indians, prior to the era of the discovery of America, had indeed no use for an axe, in the sense in which we apply the term now a days. Fire was the great agent they employed in felling trees and reducing their trunks to proper lengths. There was no cutting of trees. No stone axe, which we have ever examined, possesses the hardness or sharpness essential to cut the solid fibers of an oak, a pine, an elm, or any species of American tree whatever. When the wants of an Indian hunter had determined him to fell a tree, in order to make a log canoe, or construct pickets for a palisade, he erected a fire around it, close upon the ground. When the fire had burned in so as to produce a coal that might impede its further progress, a stone instrument of a peculiar construction, with a handle to keep the person from the heat, was employed to pick away the coal, and keep the surface fresh. This is the instrument called by them Agakwut, and to which popular opinion has usually applied the name of axe. The annexed, (Plate 14, Fig. 1,) is an exact representation of one of these antique axes, from the region of the upper lakes. De Bry pictures this process in making canoes. The mode of...

Corn Pestle or Hand Bray Stone

The zea maize was cultivated by the Indian tribes of America throughout its whole extent. Cotton was raised by the Mexican and Peruvian tribes; but there is no instance on record in which the plant was cultivated by tribes living north of the Rio Grande del Norte. The Florida and Louisiana tribes raised a kind of melon, and per haps some minor vegetables; but the whole of the tribes situated in the Mississippi Valley, in Ohio, and the Lakes, reaching on both sides of the Alleghanies, quite to Massachusetts, and other parts of New England, cultivated Indian corn. It was their staple product. The Delaware, the Hudson, Connecticut, and minor rivers north of it, yielded this grain; and it was a gift which their sagamores and priests attributed to the god of the South-west. The dry grain was prepared for boiling by crushing it in a rude wooden or stone mortar. This was a severe labor, which fell to the women s share; but it was mitigated by preparing, daily, only as much as was required by the family. It was not crushed fine, but broken into coarse grains, in which state it was eaten by the eastern tribes, under the name of samp a kind of hominy. The dish called “succutash” consisted of green corn, cut from the cob, and mixed with green beans. There is abundant evidence, in the ancient pestles found in the fields formerly occupied by Indian tribes throughout the Atlantic States, of the practice of using pestles for crushing it, above referred to. These pestles were generally made from a semi-hard rock, often grauwacke,...

Stone Block Prints

The Islanders of the Pacific Ocean fabricate a species of cloth, or habilimental tapestry, from the fibrous inner bark of certain trees. This bark is macerated, and extended into a comparatively thin surface by mallets of wood or stone. When the required degree of attenuation has been attained, the pieces are dyed, or colored with certain pigments, or vegetable concoctions, known to them. To impart regularity to the patterns, blocks or prints are applied. The coloring is wholly external; in no instance, of many specimens examined, does it extend through, or on both sides of the bark. A proof entirely conclusive that it has not been dipped, or immersed in a vat. It is not easy to determine whether a mordant has been used to set the dye or decoction. From several specimens from the Owyhee, or Sandwich Island group, herewith figured, in Plate 30, Figures 4, 5, and 6,) which have been deposited in our cabinet for upwards of twenty years, the coloring matter appears to be quite permanent. It has, at least, resisted the rays of light, with but little change, during that period; but it must be remarked that the specimens have been protected, a part of the time, in drawers. It will be observed that the yellows and blacks have endured best. A carmine-red has endured tolerably; a light brick red exhibits no change. From a specimen of this Polynesian bark now before us, it appears to possess an alkaline property, which gives it some of the qualities of felt. It is fibrous and tubercular. Long keeping, in a dry place, has developed spongy spots. This...

Rope Maker’s Reed

We can refer to no period of their traditions, when the Indian tribes were destitute of the art of making twine, and a small kind of rope. Although they had not the hemp plant, there were several species of shrubs spontaneously produced by the forest, from the inner bark of which they made these articles. They fabricated nets for fishing, which are referred to in their ancient oral tales. To tie sticks or bundles, is one of the oldest and simplest arts of mankind; and the verb to tie has, therefore, been selected by some philologists, as one of the primitives.12 It is, however, a compound, consisting of a tiling and an act, in all the Algonquin dialects known to us. The process of twine and rope making, from the barky fibre of certain plants, it appears, was one connected with some kind of machinery. From the species of stone reed that is found in some of their tumuli, whose object was, to hold the strands or plies apart, it is probable that a wooden instrument, having the properties of a rope-maker s hand-windlass, was employed to twist them together. Yet if this was not done, and we have no evidence that it was, the reed would afford some facilities for hand twisting. We have two remains of this instrument. The first was found in the upper vault of the great Grave Creek Mound. It is six inches in length, with two orifices for the twine, one and three-quarter inches apart, and tapering from the centre, where it is one and two-tenth inches broad, to half an inch at...

Funeral Food Vase

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...

Objects of Indian Art and Tools

There was found, on opening some of the minor mounds of the Ohio Valley, a species of tubes, carved out of steatite, which attracted attention. These tubes appeared to have been bored by some instrument possessing a degree of hardness superior to steatite. One end was entirely open; the other had a small aperture, as if it had been intended to facilitate suction, by a temporary rod and valve. Specimens of these are figured in Plate 32, Figs. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. The same district of country disclosed, by its tumuli, large masses of the silvery kind of mica, which may, from its small perforations, have been designed for ornamenting ancient costume. See Plate 30, Figs. 1, 2, 3. Other mounds of the same region contained a very thick and heavy species of pottery, which seemed, from its fragments, to have been employed for saline kettles, or some metallurgic operation. (See Plate 34, Figs. 2 and 3.) A singular species of amulet, apparently, was used by the Potomac tribes; see Plate 16, Fig. 6, which is drawn from a specimen in the National Institute. Hollow bones of birds were employed for a species of baldric by the ancient Indians. They were of various lengths, reaching to three inches, and were bound around the body by a cord passing through them. (SeePlate 33, Figures 3, 4, 5.) These articles were taken from the ossuaries at Beverly, in Canada. In the same location were deposited what appear to have been walking-canes, having the twist of a vine about them, and domestic utensils of wood; all of which are, however, now completely...

Bone Shuttle

In making their mats or rude lodge-tapestry, and other coarse fabrics, the aborigines employed an instrument of bone, of a peculiar construction, which has the properties of a shuttle. It was designed to introduce the woof in preparing these fabrics, as they did, from rushes and other, flexible materials used for the purpose. The art was rude,” and of a kind “to fall into disuse, by the coast tribes, as soon as European manufactures were introduced. It is therefore, when found in opening graves, &c., a proof of the ante-European period. One of these antique implements, herewith figured, (Plate 28, Fig. 1) was disclosed about- 1835, in opening an old grave, in the course of some excavations which were undertaken within the enclosure of Fort Niagara, N. Y. This grave must have been older than the origin of that fortress the foundations of which were laid by La Salle among the Seneca Iroquois, in 1678. This instrument is constructed of finely polished bone. It is ten and a half inches in length, perfectly round, about one eighth of an inch in thickness, and has a double barbed head one and a quarter inches in length. Between the barbs, is a mouth or slit, which would enable it to carry the thread across and through the warp. The instrument is slightly, curved, probably owing to the difficulty of finding one of so fine a quality, perfectly...

Aishkun, or Bone Awl

Men’s and women’s clothes were before the discovery made of skins, or dressed leather. It was necessary to the formation of garments for the body and legs, and shoes for the feet, that some hard and sharp instrument should be employed, capable of readily penetrating the skin or leather. The method of the ancient species of sewing of our tribes resembled that of a modern cordwainer rather than of a seamstress or tailor. Leather, dressed or undressed, being the material to be put together, this was accomplished by making holes in the edges of the garment or skin, and pushing through these the ends of deer sinews, or other fibrous integument. For this purpose the small and compact end of a horn, which is called aishkun by the Algonquins, was taken. Sometimes a rib bone, and at others the tibia of animals, was used. These articles are still employed for this purpose, for coarse work, among the remote tribes. These awls were of various sizes, as shown in figures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Plate 27. The metallic needle is one of the articles supplied to these tribes by civilization. Sewing and the seamstresscal art, is an incident of high...

Stone Bill, or Tomahawk

The pointed mace, found in the early North American graves and barrows, is uniformly of a semi-lunar form. It appears to have been the Cassetete or head-breaker, such as we can only ascribe to a very rude state of society. It was employed by warriors prior to the introduction of the agakwut and tomahawk. All the specimens examined have an orifice in the center of the curve for the insertion of a handle. Its object was to penetrate, by its sharp points, the skull of the adversary. This was not done by cutting, as with the agakwut or mace, but by perforating the cranium by its own gravity, and the superadded force of the warrior. In an attack, it must have been a powerful weapon. A specimen (Figure 1, Plate 11) obtained through the intervention of F. Follett, Esq., from a small mound on the banks of the Tonawanda, near Batavia, New York, is of the following dimensions. Length, eight inches: breadth, one and a half inches: thickness, about one and a quarter inches. The material is a neutral-colored siliceous slate, exquisitely worked and polished. Its weight is half a pound. Another specimen (Figure 2, Plate 11) from Oakland County, Michigan, has both the lunar points slightly broken off, yet it weighs six and a half ounces. It is of the same material, but striped. It is, in all respects, a stouter instrument. The use of this instrument, as well as the antique spear or shemagun, mark an era prior to the...

Mortar

This instrument was used by the aborigines of this continent, for crushing the zea maize, and for reducing quartz, feldspar, or shells, to a state, which permitted it to be mixed with the clays of which their pottery was made. The first use is best exemplified by the excavated block of stone, formerly and still employed by the Aztecs, for making tortillas. Of the mortar for pounding stones to temper their pottery, a specimen is herewith figured, (Figs. 6 and 7, Plate 27.) This ancient implement, which is double-chambered, was discovered by the writer in the Seneca country, in the vicinity of Buffalo City the ancient De-o-se-o-wa of the aborigines. It consists of a heavy and angular block of the cornutiferous limestone of Western New York. Fig. 8, Plate 27, is a corn-cracker of the Paquea Indians. It is of very hard stone, and was found on the Potomac. This specimen is in possession of the National Institute, at Washington, D....
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