Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ancient Ornaments

Gathered materials of feathers, bear claws, shark teeth, and other animal teeth, and paint were used as ancient ornaments, for human adornment. Later bone beads and bone pendants and stone beads and stone pendants were drilled and worn. Then shell beads were strung, shells were carved and later clay beads were made.

Graphite and other plant and stone pigments were mixed with spit, blood, urine and bear grease and used as paint for ornamentation. Paint brushes were made with feathers and animal hair. Paint was slathered on the body for ornamentation or used to paint or glaze ornaments and pots. Thin animal bone was also used as a hair pin by men who pinned their long hair into buns.

Many times the interior shaft of the conch shell was cut into many smaller beads and strung on sinew or vegetative string. Occasionally the interior shaft of the conch shell has a hole drilled in one end and is left intact and worn facing down like an upside down tornado, this is called a columella pendant.

Shell gorgets are carved from the whorl of the lightening whelk shell. A blank is cut or broken out, then ground smooth. Holes for suspension and decoration are drilled, sometimes with a bow drills or chert drills. The gorget forms a concave shape and, when engraved, the interior is polished and decorated.

Dan Townsend is the most widely recognized contemporary shell carver.

Stone ear spools are worn. To wear them, the earlobes were cut open and stretched widely to accommodate wood, stone, or copper ornaments shaped like thread spools. Once inserted, the spools likely became permanent, with skin growing over them, just as a pierced ear today will heal to cover the incision.

This lone flower was growing in an expanse of grass along the banks of the Crystal River headwaters. It looked out of place in the lawn with it's three inch diameter size, but I noticed it right away. For me this flower shows how the use of ornament or jewelry is used by humans, to draw attention. The top two photos I took at the Crystal River Mound Museum, the rest are borrowed from wikipedia to help illustrate this story. I'm in the studio today making ornaments and beads having been inspired by these ancient ornaments. Thanks for reading, and for your comments and encouragment.


  1. This post is making me think about texture. Shells ad great textures to pots as you can imagine but this is making me think a little differently.

  2. Hi Lori, thanks, I'm with you on thinking differently. I found one of those whelk shell parts on the Atlantic side of Florida last year and didn't think anything about it till I started doing research for this article. Now I'm going to dig it out and re look at it again in a whole new light. I'm also thinking about making beads and pendants in a whole new light. One day trip to a state park and I'm off on so many inspirational paths.

  3. I'm enjoying the history lessons! especially love those coil pots and the earlobe things, those would make great pendants for raku!

  4. Many thanks for this fantastic post, Linda! The ancient ornaments in the photos are really interesting. Feathers, bear claws, shark teeth, other animal teeth, and paint..Furtermore, shell beads and clay beads!! The conch shell is beautiful! Mound builders must have had style and a good eye for fashion. I'm thinking of writing a post about our ancient clay dolls called Haniwa. The Haniwa figures also wear neclaces, earings bracelets, and sometimes anklets..

  5. Enjoyed reading this history - on a more contemporary note - I've just returned from our village where I bought a simple pendant (black and white squares) with several black - you know, not metal - "chains" for a birthday gift. This is another shop in our village - Jennifer sells it as fast as it comes in - all reasonably priced and very pretty. You're onto something, Linda!

  6. I really liked the pendants but my ears hurt at those inserts.
    Just think with your skills, you would have had great value in the tribe.

  7. Hi Tracey, thanks, those earlobe things were used by splitting the earlobe back then Ugh, must have been terribly painful, but as pendants I think they'd be good.

    Hi Sapphire, thanks, I look forward to your post, it is very interesting to me to learn of these ancient people of America who built mounds before the pyramids of Egypt, amazing.

    Hi Kittie, thanks, sometimes simple is best, I'll try to keep that in mind.

    Hi Patti, thanks, those inserts were barbaric I think, but pendants would be nice. Yeah valuable to the tribe, Ha.


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