ANIMAL EFFIGY POTTERY


Cultural studies have shown that the making of pottery is a task typically assigned to women. This seems to have been true in Native American society as well. Because women were focused on the issues of daily life in the Middle World, the figures that were given shape, either by the addition of appendages or by the use of the entire vessel, reflected the values of daily village life.


Jacky Fuller collection, central Chattahoochee River, Georgia

That is not to say that women were not involved in mortuary or ceremonial matters. The inclusion of highly decorated pottery and / or figurines indicates quite the opposite. But, for the most part, ceramic figures associated with pottery reflected Middle World values and relationships including food sources and mystic thought.

Private collection, Gordon County, Georgia

This Dallas vessel in the shape of a fish (Dallas Modeled) gives clear indication of the importance of fish to the diet of this northwestern Georgia people. In fact, there are many fish weir or trap sites along the rivers of northwestern Georgia.

Etowah Mound Complex museum collection

This vulture effigy water bottle from the Etowah Mound complex (Etowah Red Filmed) did not represent a food source, but a mystic belief about some bird species including the vulture.

(Left) Private collection, Thomaston, Georgia, (Right) Ocmulgee National Monument collections

Likewise the owl did not serve as a food source, but was believed to have unique powers. The owl was affixed to the rims of some vessels at Brown’s Mount (left) near Macon, Georgia (Brown’s Mount Plain) during the Early Mississippian period. The dominance of this belief is demonstrated by the Halstead Plain water bottle (right) from the Macon Plateau just a few miles away that is also in the form of an owl. During this same period and extending into the Historic period, the Jororo people living along the St. Johns River near Hontoon Island erected an own totem at their village site. The totem dated to A.D. 1300. Swanson’s use of the Spanish name Jororo seems to be derived from the Timucuan Hororo meaning owl.

It is interesting to note that these adornments to pottery did not occur until the Hopewell based interaction between groups of people became prevalent near the end of the Deptford period between A.D. 150 and 500. The figurines that appeared during this period were soon followed by figures that appeared as ceramic appendages on pottery vessels. Until that time, motif design consisted primarily of different configurations of straight lines, curvilinear lines, or punctations.

Even though effigies involving the whole vessel or simple appendages continued into the Late Mississippian period, the majority of both Woodland and Mississippian cultures did not employ them in ceramic design. Most cultures continued with simple linear or curvilinear lines and punctation or employed the symbolism of the Southern Ceremonial Complex in pottery motif design. The potters of Georgia that used effigy figures included the Lamar, Dallas, Etowah, Halstead, and Brown’s Mount groups.

This canoe effigy bowl (shell tempered Dallas Modeled) from Gordon County, Georgia reflects the Middle World thinking of subsistence and travel.  This would be the equivalent of modeling a nice sports car into a bowl today.

Lamar potters produced this Owl effigy "rattle head" pot in Hancock County, Georgia.  The potter who made this vessel may be the same potter that made the "rattle head" human effigy bowl from the Bruce Butts collection.

 

Subsistence resources for the Native American diet were a mainstream subject for animal effigy pottery.  This duck pot stresses the importance of water fowl.

Tennessee potters also took their turn at producing many different forms of effigy bowls including ducks, bats, deer and frogs.

Some animal forms can leave us guessing while others are commonly used and clearly recognizable.

Florida groups like the Fort Walton people that entered southwestern Georgia during the Early Mississippian period also used these effigy figures extensively.  One example is the alligator effigy used to decorate the bowl at the top of this article.  The examples above are a few of the Fort Walton effigy appendages that have been recovered. It is believed that the Fort Walton culture grew directly from the Weeden Island culture, thus the tendency to use effigy figures may have been passed down through their generations.

The Weeden Island effigy figures include both plant and animal subjects.  The Hare Hammock Indented pottery type is believed to be nothing more than a Weeden Island rendering of a mushroom or a strawberry!

Apparently most Native Americans enjoyed the delicacy of frog legs as the frog is a popular effigy topic across the Southeast.  Frogs weren't the only thing that Arkansas Indians had a taste for.  Razorback hogs were a popular topic of effigy pottery, and it doesn't seem that the football team was on the field in those days, even though this hog was done in Nodena Red and White style.  And what was Mr. Indian doing while Mrs. Indian was hard at work doing all that pottery making and cooking?

Jim Maus collection, Old Town Red

That's right, ladies!  Men just haven't changed all that much.  After eating the razorback, today's man  watches them on TV, not so different than his Native American counterpart!  And, no, this isn't an animal effigy, it's more of a vegetable; a couch potato.