Cats and Bears

Contributed by John Bergman-McCool

Lately, the process of fully cataloging Adopt-A-Drawers has resulted in some interesting discoveries. The most recent of these comes from artifacts collected by Richard “Scotty” MacNeish in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

MacNeish went to Tamaulipas in 1945 hoping to find sites that predated the production of ceramics. In particular, he was searching for sites with long cultural sequences that he could use to tell the story of the development of human culture in Mesoamerica. During three field seasons, spanning  ten years, MacNeish identified and excavated several village and cave sites in the Sierra de Tamaulipas and the Sierra Madre Oriental, two mountain ranges in Tamaulipas.

MacNeish’s Tamaulipas excavation areas.

MacNeish recovered a wide variety of items from the well-preserved cave deposits in Tamaulipas. Of these were two fragmentary bear canine-shaped pendants recovered from Armadillo Cave in the Sierra de Tamaulipas. They appear to have been burnt and MacNeish believed that they were fashioned from sandstone. When compared with real canines from a bear and unknown canid, it is clear that they are an imitation. For example, the Tamaulipas pendants have no enamel and they lack the same degree of detail. However, they do approximate the shape very effectively.

Left: Two Tamaulipas bear canine-shaped pendant fragments. Middle: Dog or coyote canine pendant from Ohio. Right: Bear canine pendant from Ohio.

One of the pendants was fractured below a possible enamel layer so they were both inspected under magnification. Surprisingly, they show signs of very thin layering more reminiscent of the annuli of shell. I asked our Director, Dr. Ryan Wheeler to take a look at them. Among those who work here at the Peabody, he is the resident expert on shell artifacts. Dr. Wheeler agreed they were shell.

Magnified View of bear canine-shaped pendant from Tamaulipas, showing annuli.

The fact that the pendants were made of shell led us to think about a possible connection with the Hopewell Culture. Several shell imitations of bear canines have been recovered from Hopewell mound sites. Additionally, the Hopewell developed a very large interaction sphere, traveling far and wide for trade materials. The Hopewell procured copper from Lake Superior, silver from Canada, obsidian from Wyoming, mica from the Blue Ridge Mountains and shell from the Gulf of Mexico.

We wondered if these pendants could have been a Hopewell trade object. Fortunately, the Peabody archives include MacNeish’s Tamaulipas excavation paperwork (digitized here). The first step to establishing a possible link was to determine the items’ age. Using charcoal from distinct layers excavated from the cave deposits, MacNeish was able to radiocarbon date the deposits. The layer containing the shell pendants dates to the Almagre Phase, roughly 2,200 to 1800BCE. This correlates to the Archaic period in the Ohio valley, about 2,000 years before the Hopewell developed. The Hopewell connection was out.

I also searched for bear remains found in northern Mexican archaeological contexts. A very quick review of available resources indicated that bear remains are not all that common in the region. The only positive return came in the form of bear long bones found at Casas Grandes in Chihuahua, Mexico. This was interesting, because the historical range of both Mexican grizzly and black bears include much of northern Mexico, including Tamaulipas state. It is very likely that humans and bear interacted in the past.

At Dr. Wheeler’s suggestion I reached out to Dr. Brad Lepper, Senior Archaeologist with the Ohio History Connection and José Luis Aguilar Guajardo, archaeologist in Tamaulipas, Mexico. They both responded with helpful information. Dr. Lepper was interested in the presence of the shell pendant and was unaware of anything similar coming from Archaic sites. He suggested consulting Cheryl Claassen’s book Beliefs and Rituals in Archaic Eastern North America for possible archaic examples, which I haven’t yet had a chance to read.

Dr. Lepper provided several examples from the Ohio History Connection’s collection of Middle Woodland Hopewell bear canine pendants (here and here) and their imitations (here and here). Some of the canines were split, or contained fresh water pearls from the Ohio River. Imitations were made from mica, copper, shell, bone, ceramic and stone.

José Luis Aguilar Guajardo was also very interested in the bear canine-shaped pendants. He was unaware of anything similar coming from sites in the Sierra de Tamaulipas mountains. He indicated that shell was a semi-precious material used for making ornamentation by the Indigenous people in the area. The Sierra de Tamaulipas mountains are quite close to the Gulf of Mexico, a source for shell materials.

José was clear that black bears can still be found in the Sierra de Tamaulipas, and supported the possibility that they were bear-shaped. However, he suggested the possibility that they were inspired by the jaguar instead. According to José, jaguar were abundant in the area and were revered by the Indigenous people.

How to assign an animal label to the pendants becomes an interesting problem. Bear and jaguar canines can look similar in size and appearance. Understanding what the maker of the pendants intended them to represent is difficult when they cannot be asked about them directly. Both animals’ habitats overlapped in northern Mexico.

Though they don’t provide a definitive answer, some helpful articles, and their authors, that explore the importance of bear and jaguar imagery in north and Mesoamerica include: Bear Imagery and Ritual in Northeast North America, Thomas E. Berres, David M. Stothers and David Mather; Predators of Culture: Jaguar Symbolism and Mesoamerican Elites, Nicolas J. Saunders; and Rohonas and Spotted Lions: The Historical and Cultural Occurrence of the Jaguar, Panthera onca, among the Native Tribes of the American Southwest, Steve Pavlik. There are probably many, many others.

Perhaps, as José Luis Aguilar Guajardo has suggested in personal communications, Sierra de Tamaulipas falls into an area in which jaguars were strongly revered. In a very simplistic summary of the above articles, cranial remains of bears in archaeological contexts in North America have been considered a sign of bear ceremonialism. They don’t appear in MacNeish’s Tamaulipas excavations. Jaguar hides were an element of Aztec royal clothing and one of the accoutrements used by Aztec shamans. A small fragment of possible jaguar hide was recovered from the Sierra Madre excavations in Tamaulipas.

Future excavations in the area will likely bring more evidence to bear on the ritual and symbolic practices of the people of Tamaulipas.

Resources:

Archaic Bear Tooth Pendants and other related artifacts

Donaldson, William S. and Stanley Wortner

1995      The Hind Site and the Glacial Kame Burial Complex in Ontario. Ontario Archaeology 59:5-95.

Bear Imagery and Ritual

Berres, Thomas E., David M. Strothers and David Mather

2004      Bear Imagery and Ritual in Northeast North America: An Update and Assessment of A. Irving Hallowell’s Work. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 29(1):5-42.

Jaguar Imagery and Ritual

Pavlik, Steve

2003      Rohonas and Spotted Lions: The Historical and Cultural Occurrence of the Jaguar, Panthera  onca, among the Native Tribes of the American Southwest. Wicazo Sa Review 18(1):157-175.

Saunders, J. Nicolas

1994      Predators of Culture: Jaguar Symbolism and Mesoamerican Elites. World Archaeology  26(1):104-117.

Archaeological (Career) Explorations 

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Back in May, I was approached by Peabody education volunteer and Triton Regional High School History teacher Lisa Herzl about a student of hers who was interested in going to college for archaeology. She asked if there were any opportunities this summer for the student to learn more about what exactly archaeology is before committing her life (and $$$$) to studying it.

I reached out to my network of archaeologists to see what might be available. And, the outpouring of support of the student’s interest was amazing. My former thesis committee member Dr. Christa Beranek wrote to me that she would be happy to give the student a tour of the site she was working on at the end of June.

The Fiske Center UMass Boston was hired to investigate the property that the Marblehead Museum recently acquired. The property sits adjacent to the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, owned and operated by the Marblehead Museum, and was the former brick kitchen and possible slave quarters owned by the Lee family. This would make the site the SECOND known, still standing, extant slave quarters in New England. 

The house and brick kitchen/possible slave quarters were built in 1766 for the Lee family. When Jeremiah Lee built his property, he made extensive changes to the land, including tearing down the Bartholomew Jackson house and leveling the land. This work essentially “capped” the previous archaeological deposits – a gold mine for the team.

Once word got to Dr. Bethany Jay (long-time Peabody collaborator) that I was going to be touring the site, she jumped at the opportunity to tag along.

Dr. Beranek was kind enough to spend over an hour with our group, not only giving us a tour of the different test pits and the artifacts being found, BUT also letting us get our hands – literally – dirty!

I have been following the investigation via the social media pages of both the Fiske Center and the Marblehead Museum and you should too! And in typical archaeology fashion, they found an amazing deposit on the second to last day. Can’t wait to see where the next stages bring them!

Ms. Herzl’s student had the time of her life and is now even more set on archaeology as a career path. Here’s to the next generation of archaeologists!

Andover Summer Returns: Dig This! class at it again

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

The Peabody is keeping busy this summer with volunteers, interns, events and visits, researchers, and of course hosting the Andover Summer Session class, Dig This!

Dig This! students in class and learning to read an excavation site.

During the month of July, the Peabody hosts the Dig This! class, a course offered by Phillips Academy’s Andover Summer Session. This Lower School initiative takes a closer look at some crucial episodes in the development of this country to hone skills and understanding of dynamic interactions that took place between Native peoples and European newcomers, which continue to shape the United States to this day.

Using the Peabody Institute’s collections, together with extensive library and internet materials, students actively explore a series of case and character studies to understand the minds and strategies of important individuals from some of the most significant events in history. In addition, students attend field trips to nearby historical sites that bring these stories to life.

Dig This! students on field trips to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard and Old Sturbridge Village

Students then get to participate in their own archaeological excavation of the Mansion House at Phillips Academy – the home of PA founder, Samuel Phillips, Jr. It’s always so exciting to see what these students discover as they take part in this unique opportunity to witness history.

Dig This! students excavating the Mansion House site

Be on the lookout for more updates on students’ findings through our social media this month and maybe even a blog from one of our Dig This! class instructors!

We hope you all are having a wonderful summer!