Object: Seminole Dolls

E/1953/6/079, E/1953/6/078, E/1953/6/080
Dolls
Seminole
United States, North America
Pre-1950 (approximately 1930’s)
Materials: Palmetto Fiber, cotton patchwork, beads

People all over the world produce dolls for a number of different reasons. They are created for religious significance, as toys, collector pieces, or to celebrate part of their culture. The Seminole tribe is no exception to this and creates dolls for the children within their society. These dolls were originally designed to fall apart as the child grew up. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Seminole began to mass-produce and market their palmetto fiber dolls to tourists.

Like all Americans, the Seminole were adversely affected by the Great Depression and were in desperate need of a new economic outlet. At this time, Seminole villages were often administered by non-tribal members and were opened as a sort of “human zoo” where tourists could come and watch the Seminole doing daily work in their native environment.[i] These villages would leave the visitor with a sense of “knowing” what it meant to be Seminole. However, they were provided a show of habitat, mythology, and adaptation that was created to reinforce the “unconquered” or “wild” image of the Florida Seminole.[ii] This idea of remaining unconquered was an important aspect of Seminole culture, as they stood against the government’s attempts to remove them from their land.

The Seminole believe the dolls they make for sale are important “because they represent Seminole women at a turning point in their tribal history.”[iii] This was a time in which vast change was occurring for many Native American tribes, and for the Seminole they were trying to reclaim their sense of self in the face of attempts to either assimilate or remove them. Each Seminole woman was “responsible for her own enterprises and kept the profits from her handiwork or distributed them as she wanted… These women set their own prices and kept their profits.“[iv] This allowed the women to have a sense of freedom and control over their crafts. So, while they were being placed on display for tourists and creating items for sale, they still had a say over the prices and income that they could make off of these items.

The Seminole have sold these dolls to tourists since the early 1900s, and they are still available today. The bodies were initially made of wood until around the 1930s when the practice of using palmetto fibers, a natural material found in South Florida, took over. The body of the female dolls is created using a wood or cardboard circular base in order for the doll to be able to stand up. The fibers are wrapped around the base and formed into a cylinder shape with the head being created with a cinched neck. The features of the face are either sewn in or painted on. The dolls can range in size with some being over a foot tall and others being only a few inches in height. Most of the dolls that are created are female, however the Seminole began making male dolls in the 1940s due to popular demand. They are less common as the arms and legs are more difficult to make.[v]

The female dolls were decorated in small dresses with a cape around the shoulders and with beads for earrings and necklaces. Young Seminole women were fond of wearing several beaded necklaces as both a symbol of beauty and status. However, as the women aged, they would give way to comfort and wear fewer pieces of jewelry, gifting them to others over the years. While the clothing used for the dolls were originally small scraps from clothing that the actual Seminole people wore, “shortly before 1920, a new decorative technique was developed by Seminole women – the now famous patchwork.”[vi] This patchwork was quickly adopted as a means to further embellish the already colorful clothing. As more Seminole woman came to own sewing machines, they were able to create more intricate and detailed patterns in order to decorate the dolls. The variety in design is present in every Seminole doll; no two have quite the same design or pattern, which affords each their sense of uniqueness.

The typical hairstyle used for the dolls consists of a hair board or bonnet style. This unique hairstyle emerged in the 1930s and is created by a “fitted crown of cloth-covered cardboard or other flat material giving their hair a definitely pronounced shape.”[vii] This led to many of the dolls seeming to be wearing black bonnets, when in actuality it is a distinctive hairstyle to the Seminole women of the time.

A lot can be learned about the changing nature of dress, tourism, and women’s roles in Seminole society by studying museum objects such as these dolls from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

[Kathryn Smith]

To learn more about Seminole patchwork, take a look at this great video from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum:

References:

[i] Nathaniel Sandler and Kevin Arrow. “The Curious Vault 005: Seminole Dolls.” The Curious Vault: Inside the Collection of the Miami Science Museum. March 21, 2013. http://www.miamisci.org/blog/the-curious-vault-005-seminole-dolls/

[ii] Layla Renee Archer. “Seminole Dolls, Seminole Life: An

Exploration of Tourism and Culture.” Florida State University Libraries. 2005. Pg. 37 http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:168351/datastream/PDF/view

[iii] Archer. “Seminole Dolls”. 2005. pg. 41

[iv] Archer. “Seminole Dolls”. 2005.Pg 27.

[v] Sandler and Arrow. “The Curious Vault”. March 21, 2013.

[vi] David M. Blackard and Patsy West. “Seminole Clothing”. Culture: Who We Are. Accessed April 12, 2016. http://www.semtribe.com/Culture/SeminoleClothing.aspx.

[vii] Patsy West. “Hairstyle”. Culture: Who We Are. Accessed April 14, 2016. http://www.semtribe.com/Culture/Hairstyle.aspx

Object: Huaorani Blowgun, Quiver with Darts, and Kapok-filled Gourd

 

Blowgun

Figure 1: Huaorani blowgun. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

E_1968_5_002small

Figure 2: Huaorani quiver with darts, kapok gourd (the kapok fluff is visible in the plastic bag above the quiver) and piranha jaw. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

E/1968/5/001, E/1968/5/002
Blowgun, Darts & Quiver
Huaorani
Ecuador, South America
Unknown Date
Materials: Wood with attached plant material (blowgun); wood basket containing plant material with attached metal beads, animal bone, and fur threads (quiver & darts)

Hailing from the Amazonian Region of Ecuador, the Huaorani (also commonly known as the Waorani, Waodani, and Waos) people are historically marked by their independent nature. [1] Although Western influence has crept into some aspects of Huaorani life, such as through the introduction of shotguns for hunting purposes, some Huaorani continue to make use of traditional hunting weaponry – namely, blowguns that can reach up to 11 feet in length. A full-length blowgun, complete with quiver and darts, is located in the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. In the past, these weapons held a more prominent position in Huaorani culture. In its prime, the blowgun was a remarkable influence in Huaorani kinship and social customs, and left a legacy that remains evident to this day.

BlowgunDetail

Figure 3: Closeup of the end of a Huaorani blowgun. Notice that the blowgun is built from two sections of palm wood that have been reattached. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

The physical construction of these blowguns & their accessories sheds light on the immense skill possessed by these Huaorani craftsmen. Blowpipes are made from a split palm wood rod; the two halves are grooved, then reattached with beeswax and encased in vine bark. The Huaorani smooth out the opening created by the two grooves by placing sand inside the grooves and smoothing vertically with a slim, sturdy fishing lance. [1] Darts are created from the whittled stems of palm leaves and stored in a bamboo quiver. The Huaroani often apply curare, a potent neurotoxin, to these darts. [3] Other components of the Huaorani blowgun kit include a hollowed-out gourd filled with kapok (the fluff surrounding the seeds of Ceiba Petandra) [2] and a section of a piranha’s jaw, often attached to the rope connecting the gourd to the quiver.

When hunting with these blowguns, a wad of kapok is wrapped around the lower end of the dart. When the dart is inserted into the blowgun, air passing through the pipe will not pass around the sides of the dart but will build up behind the kapok wad, pushing the dart out of the blowgun at a high speed. [2] The Huaorani then use the sharp teeth on the piranha mandible to cut a deep notch on the front end of the dart. This ensures that the poisoned tip of the dart will break off in the intended target [3] and lead to its demise; the curare poison can kill an organism after just 2-3 minutes of exposure. [4] When firing the blowgun, the Huaorani build a tremendous amount of air pressure in their mouths and release it in one rapid exhalation into the blowgun, causing the dart to fly out at a high speed and with lethal accuracy. As the volume of the blowgun is less than a tenth than that of the human lung, the most important factor in firing a blowgun lies in the control of air expenditure exerted by Huaorani hunters, who are able to strike small targets (i.e., hummingbirds) upwards of 120 feet away. [3]

Take a look at the following videos for demonstration on the use of blowguns:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQCs6b2ClmkA Waorani (Huaorani) man demonstrating wrapping kapok around the darts & using the blowgun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-cU490W9PE: Amazonian native, naturalist, and guide Juan Kunchikuy demonstrating the technique of modifying & firing darts at targets placed on the head of a New York Times reporter.

 

In Huaorani society, the significance of the blowgun encompassed many areas of their lives and culture. Prior to the introduction of shotguns in the 1970s, blowguns were viewed as symbolic tools used to monitor the social closeness between a variety of entities. One example lies in the close bond between the Huaorani and arboreal prey such as monkeys. The Huaorani hold a great deal of respect for these primates (esp. wooly monkeys) owing to their similarity in social structure and territoriality, going so far as to spare certain individuals while hunting and to share food sources with them. [1] When hunting monkeys, the Huaorani used the blowgun to down prey they feel a close social connection to, allowing the hunters to remove the spatial distance and social distance between them by using these primates for sustenance. [1]

In modern Huaorani culture, the blowgun no longer receives widespread use; its significance as a regulator of social proximity has also declined. However, its place in the Ethnology Collection at Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History ensures that its legacy and historical significance will always remain evident and relevant.

[Daniel Quintela]

[1] Descola, Philippe, and Gísli Pálsson. “Chapter 8: Blowpipes and Spears.” Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. N.p.: Psychology, 1996. 145-65. Google Books. Google. Web. <https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=kj4yve-Za8IC&oi=fnd&pg=PA145&dq=huaorani+blowpipe&ots=axZCivQKG8&sig=cgzfBTi_gRAjgou7YKVO02dS-uk#v=onepage&q=huaorani%20blowpipe&f=false>.  

[2]Smith, Nigel. “Oenocarpus Bataua.” Palms and People in the Amazon. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 401-12. Geobotany Studies. Springer Link. Springer International Publishing AG. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/505/chp%253A10.1007%252F978-3-319-05509-1_50.pdf?originUrl=http%3A%2F%2Flink.springer.com%2Fchapter%2F10.1007%2F978-3-319-05509 1_50&token2=exp=1461182745~acl=%2Fstatic%2Fpdf%2F505%2Fchp%25253A10.1007%25252F978-3-319-05509-1_50.pdf%3ForiginUrl%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Flink.springer.com%252Fchapter%252F10.1007%252F978-3-319-05509-1_50*~hmac=caec4e8034004f90f686b3b44006eca9ccda4efeeff60aec2af86ff698194bb6>.  

[3] Talbot, Steve. In the Belly of the Beast: Technology, Nature and the Human Prospect. Ghent, NY: Nature Institute, 2004. The Nature Institute. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://natureinstitute.org/pub/persp/3/beast.pdf>.

[4] TheNewYorkTimes. “Kristof in the Crosshairs: A Blowgun Showdown in the Amazon | The New York Times.” YouTube. Google, 07 May 2008. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-cU490W9PE>.

Object: Witchcraft Papers

Figures 1 and 2: Handcrafted Otomí paper made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree and the fig tree, respectively. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1967/16/001, E/1967/16/002
Witchcraft Papers
Otomí
San Pablito, Sierra de Puebla, Mexico
Unknown date: Likely produced before March 1963
Materials: Inner bark of fig & mulberry trees

When entering the small town of San Pablito, inhabited primarily by the Otomí people of Sierra de Puebla, Mexico, a distinctive clapping sound can be heard from a good distance away – the sound of Otomí women handcrafting paper. The samples stored in the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History were crafted from the inner bark of fig and mulberry trees. Otomí women boil the inner bark in ash water, place the boiled fibers on a wooden board, hammer them into thin sheets, and leave them out to dry until they can be peeled off and used. [1] These samples in the Ethnology Collection only represent the earliest stages in the lifespan of one of these Otomí papers, however. The Otomí have a well-established tradition of crafting these papers into intricate dolls and effigies for a variety of purposes, ranging from sacrificial offerings to gods, to devices of sorcery and witchcraft.

 

Although they vary greatly in terms of design and purpose, Otomí dolls crafted from this paper are generally either “good” invocations or employed in various practices of black magic. These two types of dolls are readily distinguishable by their physical appearance, the figures or deities they represent, and their use in various circumstances by the Otomí.

The first type of doll, crafted from the inner bark of the fig tree, is marked by its light hue and used to primarily invoke protection and favor from the spirits. The Otomí believe that a wide variety of spirits control the natural world and every conceivable aspect of life. To win the favor of these spirits, the Otomí engage in a variety of ceremonies often culminating in the offering of paper dolls representing these deities. To placate the Spirit of the Rain (known as the Siren among the Otomí) and ensure proper weather for their crops, the Otomí embark on a pilgrimage to a lagoon where the Siren resides and engage in two days of feasting and celebrating. This ceremony culminates with the Otomí making an offering of foodstuffs, candles, cigarettes, and white paper dolls sprinkled with blood by throwing them into the waters or burying them on the shores of the lagoon. [1] Other figures commonly represented using this form of paper are Pajarito de Estrella (Little Star Bird) and Pajarito de Dos Cabezas (Little Bird with Two Heads.) These dolls represent intermediary figures, spirits that act as messengers between the Otomí and the spirit world. [2] Perhaps the Otomí constructed these figures to serve as offerings to these messengers, ensuring the continued communication between the Otomí and the many spirits they strive to please through their ceremonies.

Additionally, the Otomí craft these light paper dolls to procure protection and aid in a variety of life challenges. A man going to trial for a crime may carry a light doll with its lips sewn shut to prevent the judge from declaring a sentence for him. In other scenarios, a medicine man will craft two light dolls with their arms around each other for a woman whose husband has left her. In what is known as a love ceremony, the medicine man will pass the dolls through the fumes of burning incense and exhale into the dolls’ mouths before giving them to the woman. He will then tell her to follow a variety of instructions, such as to burn a candle before the dolls every day and to take them to bed with her at night in order to ensure that her husband will return to her. [1] The Otomí also buried their dead with these white paper dolls to protect them for whatever lay beyond death. [1] Interestingly, a large number of these light dolls were animal-headed effigies, constructed only for women who had died in abortion; it remains unclear as to why so many of these dolls were made, although it can be speculated that they were buried with and used to provide spiritual protection for these deceased women. [2]

The other variety of Otomí paper doll, constructed from brown paper made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree, primarily sees use in a variety of practices related to witchcraft and sorcery. In particular, the Otomí believe that illnesses are caused by a curse being cast on them, causing an evil spirit to take possession of their bodies; medicine men craft these brown paper dolls in order to cure the ill and cast a curse on the person believed to have originally inflicted the illness. [1] The brown dolls used for curing illness may take on the form of an evil spirit (i.e., the person afflicted by the curse) with the spirit of another evil person attached (representing the person who cast the curse.) [2] When casting a curse or hex, the Otomí bury a brown paper doll pierced by a thorn of Vachellia Cornigera (commonly known as Bullhorn Acacia or Bull’s Horn Acacia), alongside an object from the intended target, such as a lock of hair or a photograph. As such, many Otomí prefer not to have photos taken of them, as they provide the photographer with the ability to inflict a curse. [1]

Even though the two pieces of handcrafted Otomí paper in the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History seem like simple objects, they can actually tell us a great deal about the Otomí people and their beliefs.

[Daniel Quintela]

 Works Cited:

[1] Christensen, Bodil. “Bark Paper and Witchcraft in Indian Mexico.” Economic Botany 17.4 (1963): 361-67. Springer Link. Springer International Publishing. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02860145?LI=true>.

[2] National Museum of the American Indian, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nmai.si.edu/searchcollections/results.aspx?catids=0&areaid=12®id=43&culid=373&src=1-1&page=1>. Otomí collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Object: Ibeji doll

Figure 1 Ibeji Doll from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Ibeji Doll from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1970/4/1
Ibeji Doll
Yoruba
Nigeria, Niger Delta Region, Africa
Unknown Date
Materials: Painted Wood

Figure 2 Map of West Africa

Figure 2 Map of West Africa

The Ibeji doll tradition comes from the indigenous religion of the Yoruba. The Yoruba live in parts of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. They speak their own language and practice their indigenous religion alongside Islam and Christianity. The Yoruba have the highest twin birth rate in the world. An estimated 45 out of every 1,000 births are twins compared to the United States where every 29 out of 1,000 births result in twins[1]. The high ratio of twin births have developed into a cultural aesthetic for the Yoruba, that of Ase, or strength[2].

The Ibeji doll is always one half of a pair. These dolls represent the image of a twin who has passed. The large percentage of twins in the Yoruba population has evolved into a type of twin worship in the indigenous religion[3]. Many of these indigenous groups reside in the Oyo and Oshogbo regions of Nigeria, along the coastline, although there are small dispersals throughout their territory[4].

An Ibeji is created after one or both twins in a family die. It is crafted by a Babalawo, a spiritual guide in the community[5]. The doll is crafted from the best wood that the family can obtain along with paint in either red or black and a varnish for preservation. The doll is then created to resemble the individual that has passed as they would have appeared in adulthood[6]. There are two dolls created, one for each twin, even if only one of the twins has passed. The dolls are then decorated with beadwork or cowrie shells before being placed in a position of honor. These dolls are treated like a living human, given food and water daily, to bring luck to their family.

Additional Texts:

Religion:

Ibeji as Religious Object

Other Images of Ibeji Dolls:

Wolfz-Gallery African Arts Ibeji Collection

Other Yoruba Dolls:

Yoruba Doll

Smithsonian Yoruba Doll

[Caitlyn Colvert]

 

[1] D.D.O. Ovebola, “Traditional Medicine and Its Practitioners Among the Yoruba of Nigeria: A Classification,” Sociology, Sex, Medical 14(1980): 24.

[2] Rowland Abiodun, “Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics: The Concept of Ase,” African Arts (1994), 68-70.

[3] Marcus Louis Harvey, “Engaging the Orisa: An Exploration of the Yoruba Concepts of Ibeji and Olokun as Theoretical Principles in Black Theology,” Black Theology: An International Journal 6, no. 1(2008): 64.

[4] Emily C. McIlroy, “One Half Living for Two: Cross-Cultural Paradigms of Twinship and Twin Loss,” Omega 64, no.1(2012): 5-6.

[5] J.D.Y. Peel, “The Pastor and the “Babalawo”: The Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland,” Africa: Journal of International African Institute 60, no. 3(1990): 345.

[6] Elisha Renne, “Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town,” Ethnology 40, no. 1(2001): 67.

References Cited:

Abiodun, Rowland.

1994 Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics: The Concept of Ase. African Arts. 27(3): 68-78, 102-103.

Harvey, Marcus Louis.

2008 Engaging the Orisa: An Exploration of the Yoruba Concepts of Ibeji and Olokun as Theoretical Principles in  Black Theology. Black Theology: An International Journal. 6(1): 61-82.

McIlroy, Emily C.

2012 One Half Living for Two: Cross-Cultural Paradigms of Twinship and Twin Loss. Omega. 64(1): 1-13.

Ovebola, D.D.O.

1980 Traditional Medicine and Its Practitioners Among the Yoruba of Nigeria: A Classification. Sociology, Sex, Medical. 14: 23-29.

Peel, J.D.Y.

1990 The Pastor and the “Babalawo”: The Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland. Africa: Journal of International African Institute. 60(3): 338-369

Renne, Elisha.

2001 Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town. Ethnology. 40(1): 63-78.

 

Object: Quiver, Bow, and Arrows

Figure 1 Comanche arrows from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Comanche arrows from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 2 Comanche Quiver from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 2 Comanche Quiver from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 3 Comanche bow from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 3 Comanche bow from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1930/1/52
E/1930/1/53
E/1930/1/54
Quiver, Bow, and Arrows
Comanche
North America: Southern Plains
Date: 1930
Materials: Wood, feathers, sinew, leather

These objects are common tools when it comes to studying Native Americans. Each tribe has their own way of making bows and arrows and different styles for use. These objects were used by the Comanche people. The bow is 42” long. The arrows are between approximately 22”-26” in length.

There are many things the Comanche are well-known for: one being horsemanship and another being the ability to successfully use the bow while riding on horseback. The size of the bow and arrows are short, making them very maneuverable while riding. Being able to aim easily from side to side while riding was crucial to survival for the Comanche. Not only is the length of the bow important, but the strength of it is also important. The wood used typically is Osage Orange or Bo Dark wood. Sinew is a very strong cordage obtained from the tendons of bison. Sinew is used for many different resources among plains Native Americans. The Comanche used it for many different reasons, and in this case it was tied together to form the string of the bow.

The quiver is used to carry the bow and arrows together, each having a special spot inside the quiver. The quiver is made primarily from bison or cow hide. The quiver can be decorated in a number of ways with beadwork and fringe. One resource implemented in the quiver is called the ‘boss man.’ This is an object with a round circular base that fits in the bottom of the quiver. The base is attached to a handle used to easily pull out the arrows that rest within the quiver.

Figure 4 Comanche Bow demonstration at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

Figure 4 Comanche Bow demonstration at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

The arrows in this collection are short in length to match the bow. The arrows measure between 22”-26” in length. This is very similar to other Comanche arrows studied. The arrow points were typically made from flint, but the Comanche adopted steel points after contact with new European settlers. The wood of the arrows is made from the straightest wood possible, dog wood. The fletching on the back end of the arrows is the Comanche style of Red Tail Hawk feathers. The tough material of sinew is used to tie on the arrow fletching.

To learn more about Comanche bows, arrows, and quivers, take a look at the below videos produced by the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center:

[Jared Wahkinney]

References

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJkGM-GNRPI.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sez4GNIOaNY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlVaE1j6efY

 

Object: Silver Drachm of Alexander the Great

Figure 1 Drachm of Alexander the Great from Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Drachm of Alexander the Great from Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

C/1981/1/10
Macedonian
Greece
336-323 B.C.
Materials: Silver

When Alexander the Great, or Alexander III of Macedon, came to power, he entered into an already expansive empire of Greek city-states built by the expeditions and military successes of his father, Phillip II. Alexander followed his father on campaigns, received the best education from tutors, such as Aristotle, and successfully gained the throne at the age of 20 after his father’s murder. Unfortunately, at the beginning of his reign, he inherited both the land his father had conquered as well as the great amount of debt his father acquired while trying to enforce his claim as hegemon of Greece. For this reason, Alexander had to borrow money early in his new reign in order to provide the financial means to secure the borders of his empire. He pursued his father’s legacy of conquest and after much warring, more debt, and victories against the Persian realm, Asia Minor, and various other territories, he finally gained the resources he needed to continue his military efforts and pay his debts. Alexander then ruled a massive empire that reached from the Adriatic Sea up to the Indus River. He wanted to extend his rule all the way to the end of the world. So, he required great sums of money to afford his expensive troops, pay for supplies, and provide presents to significant cities and persons in order to maintain important ties. His need for coined money was great while he was trying to fund his campaign, so be began introducing his own currency, the date of which is under dispute. This currency system would unexpectedly gain validity in years to come.

The most prevalent coins of Alexander’s reign were the drachm and tetradracm. While coins struck in that time often had minor differences because of the sloppiness of technique by which they were created, the drachm was usually about 18 mm wide and made of silver. The process of striking the coins, commonly believed to have been made of smelted silver and gold gained from Alexander’s campaign, involved “an oven for heating blanks (flans), tongs for handling hot flans, a table or bench on which an anvil was mounted, and a pair of dies struck with a heavy hammer to impress the design into the flans” (Classic Coins). Dies were made of hard bonze or iron. One (the obverse die) would be mounted on the anvil while the other (reverse die) would be struck to make the impression as the punch. There has been some debate about the techniques used for both creating the flans as well as the actual striking of the coins since artisans wanted to protect the security of the coins so they could not be illegally copied. To learn more about how we believe blanks and coins were most likely created in Alexander’s time, take a look at this video:

Similar to the coins made before his time, Alexander’s drachm portrayed the head of Hercules on the obverse (front) and Zeus, father of Hercules sitting in his throne holding a scepter and eagle on the reverse (back). There are many theories as to why Alexander chose the image of Hercules for this coin. Some contend that it was a way, in keeping with previous tradition, to proudly link the possible lineage of the Argead dynasty to the profound hero. Others believe it was to show the pronounced physical likeness between Alexander and the hero Hercules. Yet others believe Alexander wanted to portray himself as a symbolic figure of heroism to the people he was exchanging and trading with (Kampmann). Hercules was a renowned hero in Greek mythology, and the lion headdress he wears on the drachm is believed to have portrayed his heroic slaying of the Nemean lion. Lions were also an important symbol for Macedonia, where this specific coin is believed to have been created.

Coins created during Alexander’s reign were believed to be sound money because those who exchanged them knew they were regulated by magistrates and thoroughly inspected by their creators. Often these magistrates marked the coins with their official symbols or monograms, and it was not uncommon to find test cuts made in coins where a person had checked to make sure they were of good quality silver. During his lifetime, there were 26 mints producing his coins. After his death at the age of 32, there were nearly 52 mints, representing the peak of coin production for the Alexandrian Empire. Alexander’s empire devolved into many city-states after his death, and they were warred over by his generals. These conflicts were called the Wars of Diadochi, and they lasted until finally they decided to crown Alexander’s brother as king until Alexander’s son could come of age. In this time after his death, there are many who argue that the head of Hercules on coins began to show characteristics of Alexander’s features. This is believed to show both the prominence and acceptance of the coins in the Greek and non-Greek worlds as well as a way of remembering the legacy of the king who created them. However, coins differed across different regions and varied based on the reasons they were used. In any case, it is evident that the coins of Alexander the Great of Macedon left a great and lasting impression on the field of numismatics.

[Destiny Trejo]

Sources:

Art Institute of Chicago
2012    Launchpad: Coin Production in the Ancient Greek World. Facebook. https://youtu.be/naA87x15MiU

Classical Coins
N.D.    How Ancient Coins Were Made. Classical Coins. Kampmann, Ursula

2015    The Coins of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. CoinsWeekly.
http://www.coinsweekly.com/en/archive/8?&id=67&type=a

British Museum
2007    Coin of Alexander the Great, III. Self made, Photographed at the British Museum. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/s/coin_with_head_of_alexander.aspx

Tsweb
2014    Alexander the Great: between god and man. Museum of the National Bank of Belgium. http://www.nbbmuseum.be/2014/04/alexander-the-great-between-god-and-man.htm

Object: Buddha and Halo

Figure 1 Statue of Buddha with Halo from Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Statue of Buddha with Halo from Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1955/18/245
Buddha and Halo statue
Asia: India/Nepal
Brass

This Buddha statue with flaming halo is roughly 29 ¾” tall, 18” wide, and 8 ½” deep. It features a Buddha figure on a lotus flower pedestal, with a halo of flames and Hindu deities surrounding him.

Buddhism is a widely practiced religion based on the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, an ancient prince who is believed to have given up all his worldly possessions and achieved the highest spiritual freedom: enlightenment. Different traditions of Buddhism have different beliefs about Buddha. Some believe he was an actual prince, others believe he was a reincarnation of a Hindu god, while still others believe there was no man at all, but simply the development and spread of an ideological belief system.

The hand symbols of any Buddha statue are significant in understanding the meaning of the statue’s presence. The hand positions are called “mudras” or “mark of identity” in Sanskrit. They are used in both Hinduism and Buddhism as a kind of language to evoke certain ideas or principals. This particular statue has the right hand in the position of charity and generosity, while the left hand appears to be in the position of wisdom.

The lotus throne that the Buddha is sitting on is a common theme in Asian religions, representing the path to enlightenment. The lotus flower is firmly grounded in the earth, yet is able to grow above the murky water of earthly suffering to enlightenment. The Buddha is commonly depicted with a lotus flower, or some kind of lotus reference, as seen here with his pedestal.

The Buddha is surrounded by Hindu deities in this statue, which helps contextualize the way Buddhism was received and adapted into cultures as it spread throughout Asia. Buddhism’s basic tenets speak to the basic tenets of many ancient and modern religions. To be a good Buddhist is to be morally right in knowledge, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. These tenets are then further identified in each regional interpretation of Buddhism. In this Buddha statue, we see that the ideas of reincarnation and a pantheon of gods are incorporated into the Buddhist framework of Indian and Nepalese beliefs.

To learn more about Buddhism, take a look at this BBC documentary:

[Anna Nowka]

Other Resources:

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/budd/hd_budd.htm

http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/beliefs/purpose.htm

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/study/history_buddhism/general_histories/spread_buddhism_asia.html

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/teachers/lineage_masters/who_was_shakyamuni_buddha/transcript.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/lotus.htm

Harvey, Peter. 2013. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press: New York.


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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