Archive for the 'Food preparation/serving' Category

Object: Creek Pottery Jar

Figure 1  Creek Pottery Jar from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Creek Pottery Jar from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Pottery Jar
Creek (Muskogee)
North America: Southeast
Mid 1800’s
Materials: Clay

This Creek clay pot is almost entirely undecorated except for a few minor incisions along the mouth. Approximately 10 inches high, and 8.5 inches in diameter, the jar has a globular body with a relatively short neck upon which are 46 incisions, slightly marred by a broken shard on one portion of the neck. The mouth of the pot is 5.88 inches wide. The pot is predominately brownish-gray with a large number “3” painted in red on the outside, most likely by the donor rather than the original potter. The pot has striations all along the outside, suggesting that it was roughened in the traditional Creek style, most likely accomplished through brushing with grass or corn cobs[1]. The pot was likely made in the mid-19th century, somewhere around the 1840’s.

Donated as part of an extensive collection upon the death of Robert B. Selvidge, a translator for the Muskogee Creeks and a long-time resident of Oklahoma, this pot and its sister piece were acquired in 1948 by the University of Oklahoma. Selvidge himself claimed to have moved to what was then Indian Territory in 1882 with his parents when he was young and wrote that they “settled among the full-blood Muskogee Indians…I was nine or ten years old before I can remember playing with a white child outside of my own brothers and sisters” thus having the opportunity to learn “the Indian language right along with the English language.”[2] Due to his interactions with numerous Native Americans during his job as a court translator for the Creeks, Selvidge acquired his extensive collection of Native American objects.


Figure 2   Two Creek pots from the Selvidge Collection in 1950, soon after their acquirement by OU from Selvidge’s estate in Eufala, OK. The one primarily discussed in this post is on the left in this image, figure A. Taken from Schmitt's article. Figure B, a close-up picture found between the two images of the pots, demonstrates the brush-marks, striations, found on the exterior of both of these pots.

Figure 2 Two Creek pots from the Selvidge Collection in 1950, soon after their acquirement by OU from Selvidge’s estate in Eufala, OK. The one primarily discussed in this post is on the left in this image, figure A. Taken from Schmitt’s article. Figure B, a close-up picture found between the two images of the pots, demonstrates the brush-marks, striations, found on the exterior of both of these pots.

Selvidge claimed that this pot was made in Alabama in the late 1830s or early 1840s and brought to Oklahoma, then Indian Territory, by the Creeks during the Indian Removal. While it is quite common to hear claims of objects being brought to Oklahoma during the Indian Removal of the late 1836-1837, these claims are nearly impossible to verify. Despite Selvidge’s assertion about this pot, it seems more likely that it was created in Oklahoma after the Removal. Making this distinction can be complex, as, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the types of Creek pottery made in Oklahoma, in general, “are indistinguishable from Okmulgree Fields Plain and Chattahoochee Brushed”, the two categories of pottery found in the historic Georgia homeland of the Creeks before the 1830s.[3] Despite this complexity in identification, an early analysis by Karl Schmitt of the particular Creek pots acquired by OU suggests similarities with two categories of Chickasaw pottery from south-central Oklahoma, developed in the 1840s and 1850s.[4] These two categories, Rock Creek Brushed and White Brushed, have similar tempers to that of this Creek pot, consisting of sandstone and fine-grained sand, and possess similar brushed surfaces to the two pots in the Selvidge collection. It is significantly more likely that the Selvidge pot was created in Oklahoma by Creeks who had traveled from Alabama and Georgia and thereafter intermingled with the Chickasaw and other Native American tribes, learning some of their pottery-making techniques.

While the Creeks understand themselves to be the descendants of a culture which spanned across almost the entire Southeastern United States before 1500 A.D. and the arrival of European settlers, their traditional homeland lies primarily along the river banks of parts of Alabama, George, Florida, and South Carolina.[5] The Creek are often mistakenly considered to be a single, unified tribe, when in fact they can be better understood as a union of several different tribes, a confederacy of sorts, in which each town, or talwa in Muscogee[6], consisted of members of similar kinship and cultural backgrounds which exercised relatively autonomous political authority[7]. Adding to European misconceptions, the very name “Creek” was given to the confederacy by English traders as a convenient label for the residents of the various towns.[8]

Figure 3    Names taken from the Creek tradition for county and city names demonstrate the continued importance of the Creeks in what is today their territory, just south of Tulsa. Taken from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

Figure 3 Names taken from the Creek tradition for county and city names demonstrate the continued importance of the Creeks in what is today their territory, just south of Tulsa. Taken from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

The Indian Removal Act of Andrew Jackson was enforced for the Creeks through a removal treaty, signed in 1832, which moved approximately 20,000 Creek Indians between 1836 and 1837 from their historic homelands in Georgia and Alabama to the newly established Indian Territory in what would become Oklahoma.[9] During this forced migration, the tribes known as the Lower Creeks, who had been significantly more Europeanized due to their proximity to English peoples, established farms and plantations along the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers while the two provincial groups known as the Upper Creeks established smaller towns along the Canadian River and its northern branches, most prominently along the Deep Fork area.[10]

For Native Americans during the Removal period, pottery was a dying art, but there remains evidence that the Creeks were among the only three tribes in Oklahoma which continued to make pottery in what is known as the “historic period”, after the arrival of the Europeans: the Chickasaw, Creek, and the Choctaw.[11] These three tribes continue to make pottery today. The pot from the Selvidge collection was, almost certainly, used for cooking and food storage rather than artifice or sale, considering its lack of decoration. While it is almost impossible to know the definite origin of the Selvidge pot, the most likely explanation is that it was created in the 1840s after the Creek’s arrival in Oklahoma. Despite the lack of decoration on the pot, it remains a fascinating piece in the collection due to its age and obviously utility.

[Sarah Miles]


[1] Karl Schmitt “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma” The Florida Anthropologist 3, no. 1-2 (May 1950): 4.

[2] Robert B. Selvidge, Untitled Text accompanying collection likely written some in the early 1940s.

[3] Marshall Gettys, “Pottery, American Indian,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Accessed March 20, 2015.

[4] Schmitt “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma”: 6.

[5] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website, 2013, Accessed March 18, 2015.

[6] Steven C. Hahn “Creeks in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, March 8, 2007, Accessed March 22, 2015.

[7] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[8] Hahn “Creeks in Alabama.”

[9] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[10] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[11] Gettys “Pottery, American Indian.”


Works Consulted:

1. “Ceramics” Mississippi Archeology Trails, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Accessed March 5, 2015.

2.  Foster II, H. Thomas. “Evidence of Historic Creek Indian Migration from a Regional and Direct Historic Analysis of Ceramic Types” Southeastern Archaeology 23, no. 1 (Summer 2004): 65.

3.  Gettys, Marshall. “Pottery, American Indian,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Accessed March 20, 2015.

4. Hahn, Steven C. “Creeks in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, March 8, 2007,    Accessed March 22, 2015.

5. Hopper, E.C. E.C. Hopper to J. Willis Stovall, Eufala, OK, April 8, 1948.

6. “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website, 2013, Accessed March 18, 2015.

7. “Oklahoma Lakes, Rivers, and Water Resources,” published by Accessed March 20, 2015.

8. “Our Nation: Geographic Information” Chickasaw Nation Official Website, updated February 10, 2015. Accessed March 22, 2015.

9. Quimby, George I. and Alexander Spoehr “Historic Creek Pottery from Oklahoma” American Antiquity 15, no. 3 (January 1950): 249

10. Selvidge, Robert B. Untitled Text accompanying collection likely written some in the early 1940s.

11. Schmitt, Karl. “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma” The Florida Anthropologist 3, no. 1-2 (May 1950): 4.

12. Stovall, J. Willis. J. Willis Stovall to E. C. Hopper, Norman, OK, February 25, 1947.

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: Pudding Knife

Pudding Knife
Kwoma Culture
Oceania: East Sepik: Papua New Guinea
Unknown Date
Materials: tropical hardwood with inlaid shells

This pudding knife was made by the Kwoma culture from the Eastern Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. It is 15.25″ long and 3.25” wide, and it is made out of a tropical hardwood inlaid with small pieces of shell in cross-shaped designs.

New Guinea is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean and is the world’s second largest island at more that 1000 miles in length.  A central, east-west mountain range dominates New Guinea’s geography. The western half of the island contains the highest mountains in Oceania, with peaks reaching 16,024 feet. These mountains create a steady supply of rain, providing an ideal environment for the island’s highland rain forests. The tropical environment of New Guinea means it is rich in natural resources. The island has an abundance of oil, minerals, gas, timber, and fish. In fact, New Guinea has more wealth in minerals and raw materials than the entire United States, even though the island is only about the size of the state of Texas. Today, most of New Guinea’s natural resources are exported to other countries.

For most people in New Guinea the local economy is based on subsistence fishing, hunting, and farming, and is tied to the seasonal cycle. Many indigenous communities do not use paper currency. Instead, they exchange yams, banana leaves, tree pulp, and seashells. The exchange of these items is usually marked by a ceremony or ritual.

Sago, a starchy substance originating from the sago palm tree, is an ingredient in many foods in Papua New Guinea. This includes a popular pudding served at ceremonies and celebrations. The pudding knife from the Ethnology Collection would likely have played a role in one of these events. Digging sticks are used to remove the sago pulp from the tree, and the pulp is then washed and filtered through a series of funnels until only the starch remains. The starch is then pounded into a paste that can be used to create the pudding.

This is a very old video about the production of sago starch in Papua New Guinea, but the general method is the same today. It was taken from an old 8mm film, so the sound is not very good. However, it is still interesting to watch:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Bartmann jug

Bartmann jug

Figure 1   Bartmann jug from the Ethnology Collection
of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Sumatra, Indonesia
Materials: Ceramic, salt glaze

The history of an object, how it moves from place to place over time, can teach us a great deal about a culture. It can tell us about trade, intermarriage, and, in general, how people and societies interact with one another. This jug is a fascinating case study of how an object can reveal an incredible story. It was purchased on the island of Sumatra in western Indonesia in the 1960’s-1970’s from a street vendor at a camp near the capital city of Pekanbaru.

This stoneware jug is made of hard, dense clay that is glazed using a method known as salt glazing. Salt glazing occurs when salt is introduced into a kiln when firing a ceramic vessel. It results in a glassy, mottled surface that makes the vessel impermeable to liquids. This jug is decorated with the image of a “bearded man” figurine, indicating it is a type of vessel known as a Bartmann (or Bellarmine) jug. Originally from the Frechen region of Germany, Bartmann jugs mainly date to the 16th and 17th centuries. They were used for transporting liquids and were traded widely across Northern Europe and the British Isles. The “bearded-man” figure represents a wild man from Northern European folklore and was thought to be a protective figure that warded off evil. In fact, sometimes these jugs were used as a charm against witchcraft!

So, how did a German jug for transporting liquids end up in a market in Indonesia, over 6,000 miles away? One possible answer is The Dutch East India Trading Company. One of the first multinational corporations in the world, The Dutch East India Trading Company routinely transported goods from Europe to Indonesia, which was then called the Dutch East Indies, between 1600 and 1800. The islands of Sumatra, Java, Madura, Borneo, Celebes, Maluku, Bali, and East Timor (among others) became the Dutch East Indies, known as the “Spice Islands” for their production of exotic spices such as nutmeg, cloves, pepper, and cinnamon.

When these islands came under control of The Dutch East India Trading Company, the company developed world-wide monopolies on these highly desired spices. The city of Pekanbaru was an important trading port for imported objects such as this jug. However, by 1800, mismanagement and bankruptcy resulted in the end of The Dutch East India Trading Company. The Dutch retained control of these culturally and agriculturally rich islands until the mid 20th century, and Indonesia did not become its own country until 1949 following a national revolution.

Today, Indonesia represents a crossroads of culture and trade between the Indian and Pacific oceans with more than 300 distinct ethnic groups and more than 700 languages still spoken. This object is a fascinating example of worldwide trade, the introduction of multinational corporations onto the world stage, the spread of cultural ideas, and the legacy of a colonial power.

Take a look at the video to learn more about the history of Indonesia and the Dutch East India Trading Company:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


Object: Knife


Figure 1   Iron knife from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Museum

Iron Knife
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to sixth century AD
Materials: Iron

Roman blacksmiths made knives and swords in various ways.  Metalworkers would carburize iron, weld different metals together, and quench metals to harden them into weapons.  Mainz style weapons, named after the city in Germany, were quenched when worked. In the 3rd century A.D., Romans began making dagger blades from several bars of iron instead of single bars.  For these blades metalworkers used the pattern-welding (damasking) method where rods of iron were twisted together.  The rods were then hammered, cut up, and re-combined to create a composite blade.

This knife measures 16.25 inches (41.3 cm) long, 1.75 inches (4.4 cm) wide, and .25 of an inch (.6 cm) high. Although this knife seems large, it was likely not used as a weapon.  The blade is eroded but was once straight.  Only one side of the knife has a sharp edge.  The other side is thick with a flat edge.  Most knives used as weapons were sharp on both edges, or at least had a thinner edge, unlike this knife.  The thick edge would make it difficult to use for stabbing.  Additionally, the shape of this knife does not match other Roman knives used in warfare.

Knives were used by the Romans for a variety of reasons other than warfare. Smaller knives like scalpels were used for medical procedures like small surgeries.  The shape of this knife does not match the shape of the larger Roman surgical knives, as this blade is wide and has a short curve up to the tip. So, it was likely not a surgical knife. The large size of this knife means it is unlikely it was used as a multipurpose tool.  Though some Romans carried around knives for small tasks throughout the day, such knives were likely smaller than this one. Romans also used knives in the kitchen for food preparation. This knife’s large size would make it a useful kitchen knife for chopping meat, fruits, and vegetables. Kitchen knives were also used for slaughtering the animals that were used in meals.  Romans did not use knives when eating, so this knife would not have been used during the meals, only in food preparation.

If this knife was used in a Roman military fort, it could have been used to prepare food for the entire garrison.  To have enough food to feed all the soldiers, forts had a millhouse, bakery, kitchen (culina), and dining area.  A kitchen was discovered at the auxiliary fort Stockstadt in Upper Germany.  The room had two round ovens made of red tiles. Cooks would have used this area to create the meals.

The army diet relied on grain as one of the main ingredients.  Fort granaries (horreum) held wheat and corn.  Grain was made into bread, pasta, or porridge.  Army food also included meat and vegetables.  Soldiers ate mutton, pork, beef, goat, young pig, ham, and venison.  Some of the meat was smoked to help preserve it.  Knives would have been used to butcher the animals and then cut the meat into manageable pieces.  Vegetables, fish bones, oyster shells, fruits, and nuts were also found at military forts, indicating these foods were also part of the diet.  Knives were an important tool for creating meals in the Roman forts and in the rest of the Roman world.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston

2006 Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Johnson, Anne

1983 Roman Forts of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD in Britain and the German Provinces. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Object: Jar

Raramuri (Tarahumara)
Mexico: Sierra Madre
Occidental or Copper Canyon
Date unknown
Materials: Ceramic & slip

This water storage jar was made by the Raramuri (Tarahumara) people of northwestern Mexico. The name Raramuri means “foot-runner” or “he who walks well” and this tribal group is renowned for their long distance running and hiking abilities. The Raramuri came to live in the remote canyons and mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental after encountering Spanish settlers in their previous homelands in the Chihuahua region of Mexico during the 16th-18th centuries. Their first contact with the Spaniards was with the Jesuit missionaries around 1607. In addition to religion, the missionaries also brought new agricultural techniques such as irrigation, the plow and the axe to the Raramuri. During the 17th century silver was discovered on Raramuri lands and much of their territory was confiscated and many of the Raramuri were captured to serve as forced laborers in the mines. This caused the tribe to move deeper into the mountainous areas of the Sierra Madre Occidental, where they made an effort to avoid further outside contact. The Raramuri are primarily farmers specialized in raising corn, goats, cattle, beans, potatoes, and apples but are also expert hunters. In modern times they have also begun selling their pottery, drums and baskets in the tourist trade.

The following video shows how the Raramuri live today.

© Arizona State Museum

Pottery has been used by the Raramuri for many years as everyday storage and cooking containers and is often used in their religious rituals as well. Pottery vessels are also particularly important to the Raramuri for the brewing of tesguino, a corn-based beer that is brewed in ceramic jars. Raramuri pottery historically was unpainted and decorated primarily with attached leather and rawhide. Today painted pottery is becoming more common as a part of the tourist trade. The “paint”, a type of thin mineral slip, is obtained from red ochre, iron oxide or hematite and applied by hand or using a feather or cloth-wrapped stick as a brush. The pottery is hand made by coiling a thin rope of clay on top of itself into the desired shape. The surface is then smoothed and the coils are fused together using a piece of gourd, stone or wood. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Stirrup jar

Stirrup jar
ca. 1300-1230 BCE
Materials: Ceramic, slip

Stirrup jars are specialized containers, named after the stirrup shape that the handles form, for oil or wine that are closely associated with the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures of the Aegean Bronze Age. It is thought that this type of container was originally intended to be used in the same way an amphora was used, to store and serve liquids. However, their relatively small size and arrangements for stoppering and attaching labels seems to indicate that stirrup jars were most commonly used to store and serve only particularly valuable liquids. While there are many variations of this basic shape, this example in the Sam Noble Museum most closely resembles the type of stirrup jar described by Swedish archaeologist Arn Furumark as FS179. Other examples of this shape can be found in the British Museum, and the Museum of Art and Archeology at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

One of the most interesting features of this jar is that it was labeled in antiquity with a Cypro-Minoan (sometimes also called Linear C) character. Cypro-Minoan script originated on the island of Cyprus in the Late Bronze age and is thought to have been derived from the Minoan script, Linear A. Labels of this type on pottery are called dipinti, meaning “painted.” While the meaning behind this type of marking is still unknown it is believed that they were applied separate from the rest of the decoration and could indicate a makers mark, or the owner of the contents, or some sort of routing information.

The following is a video discussing Cypro-Minoan script and what scholars have learned about it over the years. [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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