Distinctive and uncommon, scholars believe these shiny disks were used for grinding paint pigment. This particular engraved stone disc’s fine finish and unique design suggest that it was reserved for ceremonial occasions. Found in 1860 at the site of a great ceremonial mound in Moundville, Alabama, the disc contains both familiar and unknown iconographic imagery that may help archeologists expand their understanding of prehistoric belief systems and ceremonialism in the South Eastern United States. J.B.
This hand-painted mural fragment was originally part of a larger mural found at the Awatovi Hopi pueblo ruin in northeastern Arizona. Murals of this kind were painted on the walls of subterranean kiva structures for religious ceremonies after which they were covered over with a layer of native plaster. This same tradition lives on in modern kivas where the walls, made of contemporary plaster, are washed clean between separate ceremonies. This particular fragment depicts a wild cat (Lynx rufus) that is closely associated with war. J.O.B.
Prehistoric Mosaic Blade
This flint blade, described as “one of the finest examples of ancient mosaic work found north of the Mogollon Rim” by J. O. Brew, was found during a 1923 Peabody Museum expedition to a cliff dwelling in southeastern Utah. Mosaic work of this quality is rarely found outside of southern Arizona. Contemporary Pueblo peoples continue to produce mosaic work that includes turquoise, shell, and lignite. J.O.B.
Eskimo Ivory Pipe
This masterfully crafted ivory piece symbolizes the complex relationship between Native Alaskan peoples, nineteenth-century American whalers, and the tourist industry. Etched as a decorative work for tourist consumption, this ivory pipe combines traditional Eskimo scenes of hunting and abundance with scrimshaw techniques of blackening incised figures with India ink. W.C.
Eskimo Harpoon Rest
This everyday work object carved in the early nineteenth century out of white walrus tusk, a notoriously challenging medium, combines artistic mastery with entrenched meaning. Harpoon rests of this variety were reserved exclusively for whale hunting, during which they both supported the harpoon and protected the boat’s outer skin from the harpoon line. The two sets of heads represented in this particular rest symbolize the nature of the hunting vessel: the rest displays the congenial heads of the two white foxes or sea otters while hiding the ferocious faces of the two polar bears. W.C.
"Bigfoot" in the Peabody: Tsimshian Mask
This beguiling monkey mask was hewn from red cedar around 1869 by the Niska branch of the Tsimshian Indians of Canada’s North West coast. The best and earliest example of its kind, this particular mask realistically captures a likeness to eyewitness descriptions of the enigmatic Bigfoot. Similar, more stylized monkey masks, were also worn by other tribes during mimed dances that portrayed the actions of what might be described as a Sasquatch. C.S.C.
Acoma Polychrome Bowl
This magnificently executed piece is the end result of an incredibly challenging handwork process mastered by the Acoma, Pueblo Indians from Western New Mexico. This pot’s beautifully conceived design and intricate geometric decoration flaunt the Acoma’s famed ceramic skills. E.W.
“There is no other textile tradition in the world like that of the Chilat blanket weaving. The strange combination of the unusual weaving techniques and the mastering of a complex design system set these weavers apart from all others.” —Edwin L. Wade
The earliest example of its kind in the United States, this ceremonial garment was considered the ultimate prestige object on the Northwest coast. Woven only for elite members of the aristocracy, blankets of this kind took specially commissioned male designers and female weavers months of labor and rare materials to complete. E.W.
Haida Effigy Pipe
This non-functional Haida Effigy pipe, designed for the newborn tourist trade off Charlotte Island in British Columbia in the 1840s, offers a sophisticated parody of European forms and tastes. Brilliantly carved by a professional Haida craftsmen, this depiction of a Boston area sea captain manages to reverse the often one-sided lens of contact that overwhelmingly favors a European perspective. E.W.
Delaware Shoulder Bag
This shoulder bag’s rarity speaks to a tragic history of mandated cultural change and devastating relocation. The Lenape made bags of this kind as functional substitute pockets before they were forced down into Oklahoma by brutal colonizers and eastern tribal enemies. This particular shoulder bag, collected from refugees at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, embodies this moment of painful transition in its beaded ornamentation and design. E.W.
Collected in 1795 at the signing of the Greenville treaty between the United States government and the tribes of the Illinois Confederacy, this beaver bowl overflows with historic and aesthetic significance. The bowl’s well-documented history as an early museum object should not overshadow its profound aesthetic appeal. This stylistic handling of an animal form illuminates the evolution of woodland sculpture and foreshadows the twentieth century’s most celebrated artistic visions. E.W.
This Nootka hat is a fine example of fashionable and practical eighteenth century headwear from the North American Northwest coast. Purchased in 1805 by Lewis and Clark from a Columbia River Clatsop Indian for the sum of one European fishhook, this hat preserves a standardized form of woven headgear designed for use and trade. E.W.
This Mimbres bowl is part of a larger Southwestern tradition of ceramic excellence. Working within North America’s finest painted representational art form, the Mimbres developed a unique figurative style. The mythic creature inhabiting this piece fluidly combines elements of a scorpion, reptile, fish and bird in its curious form. This particular bowl was purposefully defaced in order to serve as a mortuary offering. S.W.
Sacred Spoon: Horn Spoon with Bird Head
“This individualistic piece allows us to glimpse with greater immediacy the mind and hand of the artist whose mastery is apparent in his sensitive appreciation of the translucency and pliability of the material, his perception of the bird subject, and his aesthetic feeling for form.”—Carol F. Jopling
The Eastern Sioux (Yanktonai) carved horn spoons depicting animal forms for use during the sacred feast that followed their Mystery Dance, which was a public initiation ceremony. The Sioux believed in Wakan Tanka or “the Great Mystery,” an all pervasive supernatural power that manifest itself in heightened degrees in some birds and animals. This spoon’s delicate, shapely head represents the guardian spirit of a loon or cormorant. C.J.