Shell artifacts from the collection of Brad and Mary Sutherland @2016
ANCIENT SHELL ARTIFACTS
Mary Sutherland @2016
Reference: WISCONSIN ARCHEOLOGIST Vol. 17, No. 1
FROM THE PRIVATE COLLECTION OF BRAD AND MARY SUTHERLAND
Scattered throughout a wide range of archeological literature one finds only a random mention of aboriginal uses of shell or of shell objects of pre-historic Native American Indian and ancient
Mound builder workmanship. However, they still do today survive among modern tribes as a special spoon for administering a sacred drink in the Medicine Dance.
From the very nature of shell, being destructible in character, shell relics are rarely preserved from remote periods, and it is only by reason of their inhumation with
burials that they appear among antiquities at all.
With reference to the age of shell relics, W. H. Holmes, in a treatise on "Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans," states that "specimens obtained from the mounds of the
Mississippi valley have the appearance of great antiquity, but beyond the internal evidence of the specimens them- selves we have no reliable data upon which to base an estimate of time. The
age of these relics is often rendered still less certain by the presence of intrusive interments."
The abundance of lakes and streams in Wisconsin, teeming with mollusks, served the Wisconsin aborigines as a source for their supply of shells. Weapons, traps or nets were not necessary in
the capture of mollusks; a stone to break the shell sufficed for all purposes. So man in his most primitive condition must have resorted to mollusks for the food which they afforded. In fact, clams
were so major a part of the food supply of these ancient people that many writers refer to them as the "Clam Eaters."
From the writing of the Winnebago cooking and eating utensils, Dr. Paul Radin (Eth. Ann. 37, "The Winnebago Tribe"), states: "With regard to the kind of cooking and eating utensils used in the
old days, there exists even among the Indians themselves considerable difference of opinion. According to some, their ancestors never used wooden uten- sils, mills, spoons or plates, but utilized
shells of various kinds or other natural objects suitable to their needs. For dishes and spoons of various kinds and sizes, shells were
Although carefully shaped spoons have been found in some of the adjacent areas, no special shaping, however, appeared on any of the lighter clam shell spoons found at the Aztalan site in
The bivalved shells, when used as domestic utensils, do not present a great variety of form, alterations consisting chiefly in carving out a kind of handle or tang, by which device hot food could be
eaten without danger of burning the fingers. This tang was produced by cutting away portions of the anterior and basal margins of the shell, leaving the salient angle projecting. The margin which
was presented to the lips in eating or drinking was sometimes rounded and polished, while the outer edge of the ladle was occasionally ornamented with notches. Usually fashioned
from Unio shells, these spoons, cups and ladles were used for dipping up food and drink.
The specimen presented here is without a handle and came from a site in Florida.
Private Collection of Brad and Mary Sutherland, Winslow Illinois
Virtual Museum for Ancient Antiquities and
Artifacts by Mary and Brad Sutherland
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Based off these descriptions, the purpose of the ziggurats or great
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