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Try Premium. Access one Premium article per week. Register for free. Register or subscribe to continue reading Already a subscriber? Log in. This essay presents a description of its material properties, using those characteristics as a basis for comparing the necklace to other known examples.
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Criterion for the classification and dating of North American bear claw necklaces that were proposed nearly fifty years ago by Norman Feder and Milford G. Chandler 10 support a very early date for the Peabody necklace relative to other known examples, and suggest an origin in the geopolitical region of the Upper Missouri River.
Lewis and Clark's descriptions of bear claw collars and their relationships with various tribal communities are reviewed for clues as to the tribal origin of the necklace, and it is compared to a similar necklace acquired by Prince Maximilian from the Mandan chief Mato Tope Four Bears. Contextual ethnographic and historic data show that the bear claw collars worn by Native leaders were considered culturally appropriate gifts for chiefs to present to important visitors. Lewis and Clark established cordial diplomatic relationships with Yankton, Mandan , Nez Perce and Shoshone chiefs, all of whom they reported as wearing bear claw necklaces.
Ultimately, as we found with the rest of the Lewis and Clark collection, a specific attribution remains elusive because for early historic material culture, regional styles are much better understood than are tribal distinctions. Yet the necklace remains a powerful statement of an ancient indigenous theology based on maintaining reciprocal relationships with both natural and with supernatural forces governing the universe.
As an expression of core values as well as specific ideas about bears, the necklace highlights the cultural vitality of the independent western Native nations encountered by Lewis and Clark, and serves as a touchstone to indigenous consciousness and philosophy.
It also underscores the well-known significance of grizzlies in expedition history, and deepens our appreciation of how a shared interest in bears mediated interactions between Indian people and Lewis and Clark despite vast differences in their understanding of those animals. A s a form, the bear claw necklace is simple and direct. It is an assemblage of thirty-five perforated grizzly claws, lashed to a foundation of otter hide and covered with red pigment.
Three additional, detached claws, two of which have a second hole drilled in the center, were found in the same storage container as the necklace Fig. While it is unclear whether they were originally associated with the necklace, only the claw with a single perforated hole would seem to be a good match. With the possible exception of vermilion a European-made red pigment available decades before the Lewis and Clark expedition on one of the double-perforated loose claws, no Euro American trade goods appear to have been utilized in its creation.
Their absence is a striking departure from the other objects in the Lewis and Clark collection, particularly in comparison to the other Plains materials. Unlike beaded garments or woven hats, here there are no markers of chronology or social interaction. Instead, the necklace refers primarily to essential, and therefore, timeless, values and relationships. Preliminary macroscopic analysis of the necklace was undertaken by Peabody zooarchaeologist Richard Meadow, Peabody conservator Scott Fulton, and by David Mather, a Minnesota archaeologist specializing in the cultural history of North American bears.
Each of the thirty five large claws on the necklace were taken from the forefeet of grizzlies.
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The claws were probably soaked to soften them before they were perforated once by working each side with a flint tool, strung on a rawhide thong, and lashed with sinew to a foundation made of river otter Lutra canadensis fur. The claws-which are variegated shades of ivoried yellows, olives, and browns- were also modified by cutting away part of the undersides to flatten and smooth their surfaces Figure 5. Red ochre, a mineral pigment, covers the knuckles and the underside of the claws as well as portions of the otter fur. The otter hide has been denuded by time and insect damage, which have stripped away the long guard hairs, leaving only the dense nap of the under coat.
Unfortunately, the necklace is also now missing the neck strap, an important component of stylistic and cultural information. The necklace was carefully strung in graduated fashion, so that the longest claws fall in the center. Longest of them all at 8.
It is possible that this "anomalous" claw pre-dates the others, but this seems unlikely, since bone is more durable than keratin. The remaining claws were sorted by color and size and strung across from one another in opposing pairs. Mather has determined that at least twenty individual bears are represented on the necklace, each of which contributed between one and four claws. Curvature, length, and color patterns indicate that claws from both the left and the right forepaws are included, in some cases likely representing pairs of claws from the same animal.
While they look imposing, the size of these claws between three and four inches long is within the range of variation for contemporary grizzlies, and is consistent with the average length of claws that Lewis and Clark reported having seen on necklaces and on the feet of bears killed by members of their party. According to expedition journals, expedition members killed at least two huge grizzlies whose claws measured between six and seven inches long. Many of the grizzlies killed by the Lewis and Clark party were closely examined and described by Meriwether Lewis because of his passionate interest in discovering how this massive, unfamiliar "white bear" fit into emerging systems of natural history classification and discourse, especially with regard to species distinctions.
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Paul Schullery's Lewis and Clark Among the Grizzlies 11 provides a cogent account of how Lewis's evolving analytical interest in grizzlies resulted in the earliest scientific descriptions of the bears, which many consider to be the expedition's most notable intellectual achievement. While long-standing debates about speciation have been largely solved by genetic research, modern bear researchers believe that scientific analysis of the claws on this necklace could provide valuable information about the ecology and demography of grizzly populations in the early nineteenth century that could potentially contribute to current conservation efforts.
It is possible that the claws represent the historically significant but long-extinct "Plains Grizzly," a little understood variety or ecotype of Ursos arctos , the brown bear. Microscopic portions of the claws might also yield information about the diet, age, and geographic location of the bears from which they were taken, in turn suggesting where Lewis and Clark obtained the necklace. But given the tremendous cultural and historic significance of the necklace, sampling even miniscule portions of the claws for analysis is unlikely.
T he cultural origin of the necklace is of great interest to many people, but we may never know for certain who conveyed it to Jefferson's party. No related documentation has been found, and bear claw collars such as this one were worn by men from many tribes in the region between the Upper Missouri River area and the Rocky Mountains. In the broadest sense, claw collars are one manifestation of the deep and ancient reverence that Native American people have for bears, which is strongly expressed throughout their religious ceremonies, traditional narratives, and material culture—a complex of beliefs and practices that Irving Hollowell famously termed "bear ceremonialism.
Native North American peoples shared the belief that bears were close relatives of people, but that this relationship of "dangerous kinship" required ritual mediation. Since most Native communities recognized in bears two other dominant characteristics: their ferocity and tenacity of life, and their knowledge of medicinal plants and healing, they were widely seen as the patrons of warriors, shamans, and doctors. As shown in pecked and painted rock art across the continent as well as archaeological recovery of claws, the dominant symbol for bears has long been a paw with claws, representing both the aggressive bear and the digger of medicines.
Ethnographer John Ewers observed that when eastern Woodlands peoples moved west onto the Plains and encountered grizzlies, their bear ceremonialism intensified. Real claws were not considered to be mere symbols, but rather, potent, metonymic links to a living, spiritual essence of tremendous force.
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If cared for properly, they would strengthen a man's relationship with those powers, enabling him to do great things under their protection and guidance. While reviewing much of the related ethno-historic literature, I was struck by the extent to which Indian men expressed the idea that having bear claws was more important than the manner in which they were acquired. Whether they were obtained directly by killing bears, traded for, captured, or purchased, claws were thought to have an inherent, latent power that could be activated to the benefit of the owner if handled in an appropriate ritual fashion.
Both warriors and spiritual leaders sought to cultivate relationships with bear powers, and men made such connections manifest by taking a bear name e. Because of the profound significance of bears in Native cultures, a full consideration of that topic and its implications for bear claw necklaces is beyond the scope of this essay.
However, such an enterprise would necessarily take account of the many shared aspects of North American "bear ceremonialism" 14 and related art, 15 as well as how relationships with bears were organized in specific cultural contexts. Little attention has been paid to changes in bear ceremonialism and related material culture during the nineteenth century, but it is likely that changes in hunting technology, leadership, trade relations and other aspects of social life effected the making, use, and meaning of bear claw collars over time.
A basic research method for identifying artifacts is to undertake a formal analysis of their material properties and to compare their physical attributes and style with similar things that do have an established history, or provenance. To my knowledge, the only comparative study on grizzly claw necklaces was undertaken by Norman Feder and Milford E. Chandler, who studied museum examples in hope of identifying tribal and chronological styles. In their article "Grizzly Claw Necklaces," the authors present four major styles based on construction methods and stylistic features.
For example, the range of distribution for their most basic or "Plains style" of necklace, which consists of simply strung claws, with or without added spacers such as beads, extends from the Great Lakes to the Plateau and includes a wide variety of forms. As is often true of early examples of types or styles of things, the "Lewis and Clark" grizzly claw necklace doesn't conform exactly to any of the Feder and Chandler categories.
Instead, it is a hybrid between the ubiquitous "Plains style" and their "Style 4," which is "characterized by claws with a double perforation mounted on a core and covered with otter fur," which the authors found to be distributed along the Missouri River and into the western Great Lakes. The authors discriminate four distinct types, or variations, of Style 4, based on different treatments of the head and the tail of the otter.
By far the most common and relevant to this discussion is their "Type 3," or Upper Missouri River variant, which is described as having "a core that is not continuous around the back, and further uses the tail and head of the otter as decorative projections. Both "Upper Missouri" necklaces, which the authors associate with tribes such as the Arikara , Pawnee, and Mandan , and "Plains style" claw collars are well documented in the early portraits of Plains Indian men painted by artists George Catlin and Karl Bodmer along the Upper Missouri in the s.
During that decade, new steamship service on the Missouri greatly increased communication between the "frontier" and St. Louis , entr'pot to the west. Several European and American adventurers who visited Native communities and trading posts along the river have left written and artistic documentation of lasting value. Among the most important of these frontier chroniclers were the German prince Maximilian of Wied and Bodmer, a young Swiss artist hired to illustrate their travels.