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Drawing with Great Needles

Drawing with Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America

Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Drawing with Great Needles
    Book Description:

    For thousands of years, Native Americans throughout the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains used the physical act and visual language of tattooing to construct and reinforce the identity of individuals and their place within society and the cosmos. The act of tattooing served as a rite of passage and supplication, while the composition and use of ancestral tattoo bundles was intimately related to group identity. The resulting symbols and imagery inscribed on the body held important social, civil, military, and ritual connotations within Native American society. Yet despite the cultural importance that tattooing held for prehistoric and early historic Native Americans, modern scholars have only recently begun to consider the implications of ancient Native American tattooing and assign tattooed symbols the same significance as imagery inscribed on pottery, shell, copper, and stone.

    Drawing with Great Needlesis the first book-length scholarly examination into the antiquity, meaning, and significance of Native American tattooing in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains. The contributors use a variety of approaches, including ethnohistorical and ethnographic accounts, ancient art, evidence of tattooing in the archaeological record, historic portraiture, tattoo tools and toolkits, gender roles, and the meanings that specific tattoos held for Dhegiha Sioux and other Native speakers, to examine Native American tattoo traditions. Their findings add an important new dimension to our understanding of ancient and early historic Native American society in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74913-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Archaeology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Carol Diaz-Granados and Aaron Deter-Wolf

    There is no single “place of origin” for the phenomenon of tattooing the human body. It is present on all continents and in most cultures. The very act of tattooing goes back over eight thousand years and possibly millennia earlier. But just what is it that makes the human species feel the need to use their body as a canvas? Why do people feel the need to place marks on their bodies? People in most cultures around the world use ink, scarring, or painting to place various designs on their skin that have significance for them, and often, too, importance...

  5. 1 Native American Tattooing in the Protohistoric Southeast
    (pp. 1-42)
    Antoinette B. Wallace

    The physical body is the link between the individual and the outside world and is the medium through which a person most directly projects him- or herself in a society. Therefore, the decision of an individual to augment the natural body through temporary or permanent decoration reveals precise information regarding that person’s social role, whether actual or conceptualized. Body decoration also reflects information on the society the individual inhabits. Specific colors, patterns, ornamental items, and the manner and timing with which these materials are applied to the body are all part of a culturally defined communication code (Brain 1979; Ebin...

  6. 2 Needle in a Haystack Examining the Archaeological Evidence for Prehistoric Tattooing
    (pp. 43-72)
    Aaron Deter-Wolf

    European explorers and settlers who traveled throughout the eastern woodlands and great Plains beginning in the sixteenth century left behind both textual and visual documentation of their journeys and of the people they encountered. The specific geographic areas and indigenous groups documented in the ethnohistorical record vary widely. However, one consistent aspect of these accounts is the description of permanent patterns and colors inscribed on the flesh of various Native American groups who interacted with the European chroniclers.

    It is unlikely that the indigenous tattoo traditions documented throughout the Great Plains and eastern woodlands beginning in the sixteenth century were...

  7. 3 Swift Creek Paddle Designs as Tattoos Ethnographic Insights on Prehistoric Body Decoration and Material Culture
    (pp. 73-94)
    Benjamin A. Steere

    Swift Creek complicated stamped pottery is one of the most elaborately decorated forms of pottery in eastern North America (Figure 3.1). Found primarily in Georgia and adjacent states at sites dating to the Middle and late woodland period (ca. AD 100–850), this pottery is distinguished by complex naturalistic and geometric designs that were applied to pots with carved wooden paddles (Broyles 1968; snow 1998; Wallis 2011; Williams and Elliott 1998). In recent years, great progress has been made in interpreting the meaning of the designs stamped on swift Creek pots (Saunders 1998; snow 1998; Wallis 2007), in delineating the...

  8. 4 Tattoos, Totem Marks, and War Clubs Projecting Power through Visual Symbolism in Northern Woodlands Culture
    (pp. 95-130)
    Lars Krutak

    When Lewis Henry Morgan published his classic account of Iroquois culture in 1851, tattooing had ceased amongst the people he so vividly described. Although the cultural tradition of body marking was once quite widespread across Iroquoia and the Northern Woodlands, missionization, the cessation of warfare, and the adoption of European dress and less permanent forms of ornament all contributed to the decline of this important custom among the Iroquois, as well their Algonquian neighbors—and sometimes enemies—the Delaware, Illinois, and other groups inhabiting the great lakes region.

    Traditionally speaking, tattooing embodied several functions. First, as a graphic art form...

  9. 5 The Art of Enchantment Corporeal Marking and Tattooing Bundles of the Great Plains
    (pp. 131-174)
    Lars Krutak

    Rock art panels in Missouri provide evidence that tattooing probably has been an indelible feature of great Plains culture for at least one thousand years (Diaz-Granados 2004:147), if not longer. In the historic period, ethnographic records reveal that tattooing was practiced amongst most groups inhabiting this vast culture area, with the tradition reaching its apex amongst Siouan groups including the Hidatsa, Osage, Ponca, Omaha, Otoe, and Iowa. Although each tribal society employed specific abstract designs in ritualistically mandated patterns, the religious structure of belief behind the origins of these corporal symbols was remarkably similar.

    Fundamental to such concepts was the...

  10. 6 Identifying the Face of the Sacred Tattooing the Images of Gods and Heroes in the Art of the Mississippian Period
    (pp. 175-194)
    F. Kent Reilly III

    Within all cultures the images of gods and heroes carry specific markings, colors, or tattoos to allow the initiated to recognize their identities, their ritual objects, and the practitioners who were dedicated to serving and worshipping these extraordinary beings. The forms and styles of body modification and tattooing, in effect, function as templates that identify the cosmic realm or realms that these “Other-Than-human-Persons,” or supernaturals, inhabit. Tattooing also identifies the human ritual practitioners who can access these preternatural entities through sacred rituals and objects.

    For this study, body decoration and modification among ancient and modern Native Americans is classified into...

  11. 7 Dhegihan Tattoos Markings That Consecrate, Empower, and Designate Lineage
    (pp. 195-214)
    James R. Duncan

    Tattooingis defined as indelible marks made by placing pigment beneath the skin. The standard definition also refers to “scarification.” As discussed by Antoinette Wallace in Chapter 1, the earliest visual record of the use of tattooing by the Indians of North America is from the artists Jacques Le Moyne and John White in the late sixteenth century, both of whom depicted Indians of the southeastern coastal region, then called Florida. Some but not all of the males and females depicted by these artists were shown tattooed and painted. Throughout the remainder of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries there...

  12. 8 Snaring Life from the Stars and the Sun Mississippian Tattooing and the Enduring Cycle of Life and Death
    (pp. 215-252)
    David H. Dye

    Body painting and tattooing in indigenous eastern North America is illustrated by a wealth of striking images and portraiture. In addition to drawings and photographs from the late nineteenth century, archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence point to body painting and tattooing as once being embraced by numerous peoples who spoke widely different languages. Such depictions are particularly abundant in the Midwest and eastern plains, where extensive ethnographic fieldwork was undertaken among Siouan Chiwere and Dhegiha as well as neighboring Algonquians and Caddoans. Some of this fieldwork was conducted by native researchers, such as Francis la Flesche, an Omaha who produced detailed...

    (pp. 253-280)
    (pp. 281-282)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 283-293)