Posts Tagged 'animals'

Object: Bison Skull

E/1947/1/9
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 Bronze Fox

C/1957/14/9
Bronze Fox
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze (cast)

This bronze fox has clear details of fur all over its body. The fox is couchant, meaning it is lying down with the face lifted up.  It measures 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 2.5 in. (6.4 cm) long, and .75 in. (1.9 cm) wide.  It has an exaggerated tail that widens towards the tip.  There is an incised line down the center of the tail.  The bottom of this statuette is flat except for a small pin sticking down; likely for attachment to something.

Foxes are native to Italy.  They were part of a Roman ritual for Ceres held in the middle of April (many say on the 19th) every year, the Cerealia. The foxes did not survive the ritual.  The festival involved a spectacle in the Circus Maximus where the Romans tied lighted torches to the foxes’ tails and set them lose in the Circus, where they were burned to death. The author Ovid says this ritual comes from an incident when a child had wrapped a vixen in straw and set her on fire. The female fox then ran into a wheat field, setting the crops on fire. The ritual for Ceres was supposed to show the foxes atoning for the burning of the crops. Fox hunts, like hare hunts, are depicted in many places throughout ancient Rome, including mosaic floors.

Also like hares, a fox could be kept as a pet. The aurita lagalopex, likely a long-eared fox, is one example.  The Romans made pets of many kinds of animals, from the exotic (lions) to the tame (dogs). This fox statuette from the Classics Collection is couchant, not running or standing.  It is thus unlikely this fox was meant to depict a fox in the Ceres ritual or in a hunt.  Instead, this may have been a depiction of a native Italian animal or a pet.

Works Cited

McKeown, J. C.

            2010 A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts                  from the World’s Greatest Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object: Bronze Dog

C/1957/14/35
Bronze Sleeping Dog
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This bronze dog is shown sleeping.  It is .5 in. (1.3 cm) high, 2 in. (5.1 cm) long, and 1 in. (2.5 cm) wide.  Details of fur can be seen on the ruff and tail.  The bottom of the statuette is flat except for one hollowed out area.  One ear is partially gone, but the other ear is flat down against the head.

Romans had dogs for hunting, herding, guarding, draught, performing, and as pets. In fact, a dog could be both a hunting companion and a beloved pet.  The strong bond between a Roman and their dog can be seen in artwork and poems commemorating pets.  Dog artwork was often created after the dog had died, and the artwork reflected the owner’s grief and anguish, feelings that people today can identify with upon loosing a beloved pet.

It is clear the Romans were aware of the loyalty of dogs to their masters.  In one account from 28 A.D., during Emperor Tiberius’s rule, Titius Sabinus was arrested and his dog stayed outside his prison door. When Sabinus was killed and his corpse thrown outside, his dog howled beside his body. When Sabinus’s body was thrown into the Tiber River, his dog jumped in after it in an effort to keep it from sinking.

This bronze dog figure from the Classics Collection is shown sleeping, and so is clearly not actively working in any of its possible occupations. This may mean that this is artwork of a pet dog that lounges around with its masters or may be a representation of dogs in general, which were common in the Roman world. As a small bronze figure it may have been decoration on a larger object or part of a shrine to a god. The hunting dog was associated with the goddess Diana (Artemis), so figurines of dogs may be part of a dedication to the goddess.

Video: To see a quick video of the cave canem (“beware of the dog”) mosaic at Pompeii take a look:

Works Cited

McKeown, J. C.

            2010 A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts                    from the World’s Greatest Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object: Bronze Sheep

Bronze Sheep carrying Woolsack
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This sheep statuette is standing upright and carrying a triangular woolsack, or carrying bag, on its back.  It is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 1 in. (2.5 cm) long, and 1 in. (2.5 cm) wide.  It also has small curled horns on the sides of its head.

Some wild sheep (mouflon) were used in venationes (animal hunts).  These sheep had shaggy wool and curly horns. Romans imported wild rams from Africa, which they said had a marvelous color. A sheep breed from Spain was also renowned for their gold tinted wool. These wooled sheep were sometimes used for public spectacles. As with other types of animals, Romans imported sheep from around their empire. Unlike with some imported animals that were used mainly for spectacles, imported wild sheep were often kept on estates and tamed.

There were native Italian sheep as well, the most famous of which were the Tarentines with their fat tails. Tarentines grazed on the Galaesus river banks. Romans praised the Tarentines for the quality of their wool, which they used for clothing. Another important use for sheep besides wool, milk, cheese, and spectacles was their role as sacrifices. Sheep were sacrificed to many deities, including Jupiter, Juno, Janus, Mars, Terminus, Faunus, and Silvanus. Sheep were part of the large state-sponsored sacrifices to the gods. One example of state sacrifices is the suovetaurilia, which called for the sacrifice of a ram, bull, and pig.

Sacrificed sheep were one of the most popular animals to use for divination. Haruspex priests, or diviners, inspected the entrails of the sheep, focusing mainly on the liver to predict the future.  Etruscans also practiced haruspicy. A bronze model of a sheep’s liver with Etruscan writing has been found, called the liver of Piacenza. By examining the liver, the haruspex would learn the will of the gods. Haruspices were used both by the senate and by private people. Later in Roman history, however, well-educated Romans looked down on consulting the haruspices. Emperor Claudius tried to bring back this practice and had the senate pass a decree for priests to look into reviving parts of haruspicy.

In art, sheep are most commonly shown in pastoral scenes. Mythological sheep scenes were created to depict the story of the golden ram carrying mythological figures Phrixus and Helle across the sea (which was termed the Hellespont after Helle fell into the sea). During the Christian era, sheep then became a common image in Christian art.

Sheep were useful in many ways for the Romans. In this bronze statuette, the sheep is shown in a practical role carrying a woolsack. The bronze sheep is therefore most connected to its role of giving wool.  This may be a depiction of one of the sheep popular for the quality of their wool, such as the Tarentines discussed above.

Works Cited

Smith, William

         1875 “Haruspices.” A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray.   586-587.      <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/ Haruspices.html>.

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]


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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