An Extant Map as Evidence of Native American Cartography

In the U.S., and indeed more widely in the Anglo-American world, Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke are known for their two-year expedition of the Louisiana territory (purchased from France in 1803) and the land beyond the “great rock mountains” in the west.

Less commonly remembered in cursory mentions is the extent of Lewis and Clarke’s interactions with local Native Americans. (Apart from Sacagawea, who is known at least in the U.S.) The whites didn’t just exchange gifts or talk about trade or clash with the local population; they received invaluable help and information (like when the expedition wintered with the Mandan people in present-day North Dakota).

Now it seems that western historians need to re-evaluate that extent.

According to The Jefferson Watch, cartographers have identified at least ten places in the journals of Lewis and Clarke where the captains talk about the maps by Native American hosts to help them figure out the lay of the land.

Christopher Steinke, at the time a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, found one of those maps at the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris. It was drawn by Inquidanécharo, a chief of the Arikara (in French, Ricara), who was apparently also known as Too Né.

LudditeLabs on Twitter did some of the heavy lifting and linked to the BnF digital copy of the map:

BnF Gallica Inquidanecharo Map Missouri Valley

An article by Steinke is available at JSTOR, where this abstract comes from:

“The Bibliothèque nationale de France contains a hitherto unnoticed map attributed to Inquidanécharo, a Ricara chief. Lewis and Clark knew him as Too Né, an Arikara village leader who accompanied them upriver to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages in 1804. The map, which Too Né showed to playwright and artist William Dunlap when he visited Washington in 1806, is the most detailed surviving Indian representation of the Great Plains from this period. It invites scholars to reorient early American exploration and cartography from indigenous perspectives. Too Né interpreted his map as a work of history and cartography and situated the American explorers in the historical and religious landscape of the Arikara people.”

In “Here is My Country”, Steinke outlines some of the main features of Inquidanécharo’s map, and recounts some history surrounding it. He also lists a few other Native American maps from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

What most struck me, though, is that Native American maps seem to have contained more information than just geographical details—they also depicted cultural connections and ethnographical information.

I knew Native Americans used symbols and pictograms, and had to have—like people everywhere—a way of talking about and remembering locations outside their immediate surroundings. I had no idea, however, that Native American cartography was as polished or wide-reaching as it was (a hint for the Finnish school system), let alone that their maps might still be extant. Fascinating!

Found via bluecorncomics on Twitter.

This post has been edited to correct a typo.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

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Possible Prehistoric Twig Toy

In an article at SAPIENS, archaeologist Stephen E. Nash discusses the difficulty of interpreting prehistoric life due to the fact that artifacts made of perishable materials are so rarely preserved to be found. It’s a quick, fascinating read, but what jumped at me was this image of a split-twig figurine that Dr. Nash shared:

Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Figurine of a deer or bighorn sheep, accession number DMNS/A1291.1, by Denver Museum of Nature & Science via SAPIENS (Dolores Cave near Gunnison, Colorado; c. 2,500 BCE; split twigs)

Found in Dolores Cave near Gunnison, Colorado, and at 4,500 years old it’s apparently the oldest and easternmost example of an artifact style found in dry cave environments across the American West. It’s unknown whether the figurine had ritualistic (or magical) uses or whether it was a child’s toy.

Regardless of what its function was, the figurine is an intriguing example of Stone Age material culture. Like Dr. Nash points out, much of the coverage of prehistoric cultures concentrates on artifacts made of nonperishable materials—stone, bone, shells, metal, or the like. It’s exhilarating to see something that could basically have been the equivalent of a twig toy horse.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Space Archaeologist Discovers Potential Viking Site in Southern Newfoundland

A team of archaeologists has unearthed a potential new Viking site in Newfoundland, Canada with the help of satellites. Dr. Sarah H. Parcak, an archaeologist, space archaeologist, and Egyptologist, lead the effort to take infrared images from space to find new archaeological sites.

Newfoundland with Viking Activity
Newfoundland with Viking activity. Map by Eppu Jensen on the basis of Canada Newfoundland and Labrador relief location map by Flappiefh on Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

According to The New York Times, while searching the coastlines from Baffin Island (in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, west of Greenland) to Massachusetts, she found

“hundreds of potential ‘hot spots’ that high-resolution aerial photography narrowed to a handful and then one particularly promising candidate — ‘a dark stain’ with buried rectilinear features.

“Magnetometer readings later taken at the remote site […] showed elevated iron readings. And trenches that were then dug exposed Viking-style turf walls along with ash residue, roasted ore called bog iron and a fire-cracked boulder — signs of metallurgy not associated with native people of the region.

“In addition, radiocarbon tests dating the materials to the Norse era, and the absence of historical objects pointing to any other cultures, helped persuade scientists involved in the project and outside experts of the site’s promise.”

Point Rosee is approximately 700 km (approximately 400 miles) away from L’Anse aux Meadows, the only currently confirmed Viking site in North America. The Norsemen staying at L’Anse must have traveled further south, though, because butternuts and worked pieces of butternut wood – which are not native to Newfoundland – were found among the Norse objects at the settlement.

CBC News reports that evidence of a Norse-like hearth and 8 kilograms (approx. 16 pounds) of bog iron was found at Point Rosee during a dig in 2015. It isn’t yet known for sure whether the site was a temporary base camp or a settlement, or whether it even was associated with Vikings. If confirmed, Point Rosee would be the second known Viking site in North America.

The evidence is still clearly on the scant side. Digging at Point Rosee is to resume this summer, so maybe they’ll find more.

As a sidenote, isn’t it so cool that we now have space archaeologists?!

Gift Exchange

160111elephantGift exchange is part of festive celebrations for many people in the modern world, including many traditions whose gift-giving season has just passed. In the pre-modern world, though, gift exchange was often a vital part of social, political, and economic life.

The essential principle of gift exchange is reciprocity. Giving someone a gift obliges them to return a gift of equal value. In the modern market economy in which every item can be assigned a monetary value, this is cause for anxiety (and comedy) over gift-giving, but in earlier societies value was measured in other ways. The value of a gift often depended on the prestige of the person giving it. Since gifts were reciprocal, they created a relationship, of which the gift acted as tangible proof. The modern taboo against asking the price of a gift (“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”) attempts to reinforce this kind of value in a monetized world.

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Serpent Mound

Serpent Mound, located in Ohio in the United States, is an enormous earthwork built on a grassy plateau above Ohio Brush Creek. It is one of many large earthworks in North America, but it is unusual in representing an image when seen from above. This image has been interpreted as a snake swallowing an egg.

151123Serpent
Serpent Mound, photograph by Eric Ewing via Wikimedia

The date of construction is uncertain, but recent research suggests that Serpent Mound was created in the last few centuries CE when the river valleys west of the central Appalachian Mountains were occupied by a people known to modern archaeologists as the Adena culture. We have no way of knowing what they called themselves. The Adena were a sophisticated culture at the center of a trade network stretching north beyond the Great Lakes south to the Gulf of Mexico. One of the distinctive features of their culture was the construction of large earthworks, many of which served funerary purposes, but may also have marked ceremonial centers or areas for gathering and trade.

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