Archive for the 'bone' Category

Object: Bison Skull

Bison Skull
Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe
Watonga, Oklahoma, USA
Unknown date
Materials: Bone and horn

This bison skull was found in Watonga, Oklahoma at the Cheyenne-Arapaho Opening by Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History donor, William H. Munger. The city, Watonga, is located in Blaine County and is 70 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

The measurements of the skull are: 2’ long, 13” wide, and the horns are each 9” long. The skull measurements indicate that it is a North American species known as Bison bison, or the American bison. The primary traditional uses of a bison included consuming the meat and fat for food, and utilizing the bones and hides in making tools and clothing.

The Cheyenne-Arapaho Opening was an event where thousands of non-native people poured into Oklahoma to claim a portion of the 3.5 million acres of former Cheyenne-Arapaho land that had been confiscated by the federal government. These non-native people ventured into Oklahoma in carriages, wagons, and on horses in order to line up and run for land at noon. This Opening occurred on April 19, 1892, consisted of approximately 25,000 people, and it resulted in six new counties being formed in Oklahoma.

Food and water were scarce in the region, and people would find and sell bleached bison bones in order to survive. Not much is known about this skull, but it may have been bleaching in the sun when it was found by Mr. Munger.

Another bison skull found in Oklahoma is much older and is called the Cooper Skull, found in Harper County. It is currently on display at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in the Hall of the People of Oklahoma. It is the oldest painted object found in North America and is considered to be a part of the Folsom tradition. The skull is from a now-extinct bison and is around 10,000 years old. It has a red lightning bolt painted across the front. The paint symbolizes that the bison had a greater purpose in rituals, instead of being solely used for food, tools, or clothing purposes.

Although unsure of the original purpose for the bison skull found in Watonga, it is evident that bison have a long history of being used by people ranging from thousands of years ago through today. They serve multiple functions and have been a large part of Oklahoma history, whether through land runs such as the Cheyenne-Arapaho Opening or through Native American culture and rituals.

[Jaden Edwards]


Object: Harpoon

North Alaska Inuit, Alaska, United States of America
Materials: Whale bone, Ivory, Wood, Leather

There are two types of heads for harpoons, the non-toggling head and the toggle head.  This harpoon is of the toggling type that was invented by ancestors of the Inuit people, and it continues to be modified and used today by hunters from all around the world. It is suggested that the toggling head was first used along the Bering Strait, the narrow passage between Alaska, Russia, and the Aleutian Island, but the exact origin is highly debated.  However, among the uncertainty there remains one consensus; it changed the way sea mammals would be hunted forever.  The technology emerged to enhance hunting techniques, because, in the original design, the non-toggling harpoon, the head was fixed to the end of the shaft.  This was effective, but the design was not perfect.  Even though the head was barbed, it could still be dislodged from the animal.  The toggling head was invented to resolve this problem.

In the toggle harpoon the head detaches from the weapon but remains connected to the harpoon by a leather line.  Once the head has penetrated the animal the separation allows the head to rotate and become more securely fixed under the hide.  This technique gives the hunter more leverage to pull the animal from the water and to remain attached until the animal becomes tired.  Additionally, when the head detaches from the weapon, the harpoon does not break against the ice when the animal dives back under the water.

The toggle harpoon has a long history of success.  Its earliest prototypes in 5500 BC began to improve the living conditions of the hunters and their families with its added efficiency, and the invention remained mostly the same until the 19th century.  In 1848 Lewis Temple, a former slave and blacksmith, revolutionized the technology with the addition of the iron head.  Since then, the makeup of the shafts and other parts of the bodies of harpoons continue to be modified, but the toggling head remains a constant in all of the new designs.  This Native American invention transformed sea mammal hunting and continues to thrive over 7,500 years later. To see a toggle head harpoon in action watch the movie below.

Work Cited

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.

Forbes, Jack D.
2007   The American Discovery of Europe. University of Illinois Press. Ch. 6-7
Glenbow Museum
National Park Service.
2008  Lewis Temple and His Impact on 19th Century Whaling. National Parks Traveler.
NOAA Ocean Media Center
2012   People of the Seal.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
N.D. Whale Harpoons, or Temple Toggle Irons. On the Water.
[Madi Sussmann]

Object: Hand Game Set

E/2009/2/1 a-tt
Hand game set
Carnegie, OK
Ca. 2009
Materials: Painted wood and plastic pegs

This object is a Kiowa hand game set. The set consists of a rectangular painted wooden base (27.5” long by 8.5” high by 5” wide), 37 painted wooden rods that fit into holes along the top of the base (each rod is 12” long and 3/8” in diameter), and 8 pegs made of white plastic that fit into holes along the sides of the base (each peg is 4” long by 3/8” in diameter). Eighteen of the rods are on the left side and are painted dark blue with small white dots all over. Another 18 rods are placed on the right side and are painted in a mottled red and yellow design. There is a single central rod, painted blue with white dots on one end and mottled red and yellow on the other. Half of the pegs are decorated with 3 bands of color while the other half of the pegs are plain. Two decorated and two undecorated pegs are on each side of the base. The base is painted red with a mountain landscape outlined in yellow. Above the mountains, the rest of the base is painted dark blue with small white dots, possibly representing stars.  There is a yellow, red, and blue maple leaf emblem on the top center of the base.

The hand game, common to at least 81 different Native American tribes in North America, is a game of chance. Men, women, and children of all ages play this game. The game can vary in size size, from only a handful of people to around 50 people! Hand games go by many different names amongst the various tribes, including “stick games” or “hands and bones,” but all of them involve guessing in which hand an object, or series of objects, is hidden. This type of game is very old. In fact, Lewis and Clark mentioned this game in their records of meeting with the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho in the early 1800’s.

Generally, a bone, wooden, or plastic bead at least 2 inches long is the object being hidden. In many cases, there are multiple beads (usually two or four). There are always two teams that sit in rows across from each other. A scorekeeper and the musicians usually sit to one side. The game starts by drawing lots to see which team will get to have the bead (or beads) “in hand.” This means that they are the ones in possession of the bead and are responsible for hiding it. The players on the opposite side, who are to guess who is hiding the bead, must watch closely to keep track of where the players are trying to pass the bead from one hand to the other and from one person to another without exposing the bead to view. Each player in the row that has the bead “in hand” act as if they, specifically, are the one to have the bead in order to try to fool their opponents. The teams actively cheer on their own side while trying to distract the opposing team with songs and dances. Every time the opposing side correctly guesses where the bead is, they win a point. The side guessing continues to guess until they miss; then they switch and the other team guesses. The 30 (or more) counting sticks, sometimes referred to as arrows, are used to keep score. The first team to 10 points wins!

Take a look at this video to see a contemporary hand game from Oklahoma:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Headdress

Hair roach headdress
Unknown tribe
North America: Plains
ca. 1900
Materials: Hair, bone, feather, cloth, and metal

The hair roach headdress has been a popular form of personal adornment amongst Native American tribes since at least the 19th century. The origins of this style headdress are unclear but some have suggested it was influenced by the red crest of the Pileated Woodpecker, or the style of “roaching” a horse’s mane, or was an adaptation of the “Mohawk” hairstyle.

Hair roaches like this one are made by attaching bundles of hair to a base cord. The base cord is then sewn together in concentric loops, starting at the inside of the roach and working outward. A “spreader” holds the hair of the roach open and helps to attach the ties that are used to secure the roach to the wearer’s head. The size and shape of the spreader affects how the hair of the roach stands and changes the overall look of the roach. Spreaders can be made of rawhide, bone, or metal. This example of a child sized roach from the Sam Noble Museum has a bone spreader, possibly from the scapula of a bison and the hair appears to be either deer or horse.  In modern Fancy Dance regalia, feathers are attached to the spreader on either a “rocker” or a “spinner.” These attachments are designed to make the feathers move more vigorously when dancing.

The following video demonstrates how to care for and store a porcupine hair roach headdress. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Ear sticks

E/1955/6/150 a-b & E/1955/6/151 a-b
Ear sticks
Solomon Islanders
Melanesia: Malaita
ca. 1940s
Materials: Bamboo, glass beads, bone, textile & plant fibers

Pierced ears and ear decorations are common forms of personal adornment in the Solomon Islands. Both men and women traditionally have pierced ears and there are a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and types of ornaments used. Ear ornaments could be made from turtle shells, oyster shells, wood, seeds, bamboo, sharks teeth, bone, and more. People would have their ears pierced as children and would gradually increase the size of the piercing over time by using progressively larger ornaments. The missionary Walter Ivens described the methods he observed being used to pierce ears in the southeastern Solomon Island in the early 1900’s:

‘A piece of turtle-shell is bent into shape and clipped to the lobe. It eats its way through gradually and without much pain. Another way is to bore a hole with the bonito hook, te’i [tuna fish hook], but this gives pain. When the hole is once made, a piece of stick or a roll of leaves is inserted.’

On the island of Malaita a popular form of ear ornament is the ear stick, like those shown above from the Sam Noble Museum. The women traditionally make these ornaments for the men of the island to wear. They are made out of bamboo sticks that are carefully covered with woven designs using plant fibers from the yellow orchid and coconut palm. This type of ear ornament was generally worn for dances or special occasions rather than as everyday ornaments.

Other examples of this type of ear ornament can be found in the British Museum, the Macleay Museum,  the Auckland Museum, and others.

The following video shows a group of musicians from the island of Malaita performing at the Mini Festival of Melanesian Arts in Lifou, New Caledonia. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Necklace

Baffinland Inuit
North America: Canada: Baffin Island
prior to 1959
Materials: Glass, bone, ivory, beak or claw, and cord

This trade bead necklace has been attributed to the Baffinland Inuit tribe from Baffin Island, Canada. The Baffinland Inuit are one of the groups that make up the Central Eskimo, along with the Copper, Iglulik, Netsilik, and Caribou Inuit. Baffinland Inuit, like other Inuit groups, traditionally lived in semi-permanent winter settlements. These winter settlements served as a hub for smaller seasonal camps that were utilized for hunting, fishing and gathering of specific materials throughout the warmer months of the year. Marine animals like seals, beluga whales, walrus, narwhal, and polar bear were important year round resources for the Inuit people. While in the summer, caribou, birds (and eggs), small game, berries, roots, and shellfish were also available. Today, the Baffinland Inuit live in six main communities: Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island), Clyde River, Kimmirut (formerly Lake Harbour) and Cape Dorset.

This necklace, like other traditional Inuit arts and crafts, is made of bone and ivory from marine animals. In addition to these traditional materials this necklace also features large glass trade beads. Glass beads were first introduced to native North Americans by European explorers. Prior to European contact tribal groups had been making beads from bone, shell, stone, and other materials for many years. Early glass trade beads came mostly from Venice and Holland, later Poland and Czechoslovakia also became major trade bead manufacturing hubs. Trade in glass beads was very common throughout North America, with blue beads being particularly prized. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Apron

Ceremonial Apron
Tibetan Buddhist
Prior to 1961
Materials: Bone (likely from sheep), and cotton cloth (not original to object)

This object is an apron traditionally worn by Buddhist practitioners during Tantric ceremonies in Tibet. Tantric Buddhism, or Vajrayāna Buddhism, is a type of Buddhism that focuses on helping others to achieve enlightenment rather than on reaching personal Nirvana. In order to achieve this goal Tantric Buddhists repeat sacred chants or prayers called mantras, read sacred texts called tantras, practice yoga, and study with a guru. While some aspects of Tantric Buddhism are well known many of the teachings of this type of Buddhism are deliberately shrouded in mystery to prevent the uninitiated from learning religious secrets.

While this apron is made using sheep bones, aprons like this one were sometimes made using human bones. The bone decoration was meant to symbolize the death of the wearer and a release from his physical body in pursuit of enlightenment.  A set of six bone ornaments, including the apron, are meant to symbolize the six paramitas, or perfections, necessary for the attainment of enlightenment. These perfections include: generosity, ethics, patience, perseverance, concentration, and wisdom.

The following video shows traditional Tibetan Buddhist dancing. A bone apron can be seen briefly on some of the dancers around  minute 1.

Similar aprons can be found at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Australian Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art among others. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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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