Origin of the New England Society for Amateur Archaeology Logo By Richard Michael Gramly, ASAA Organizer
In 1902 the Holyoke Public Library opened the doors of its new headquarters in downtown Holyoke. The library shared the building with the Museum of Natural History and Art, which occupied the upper floor. Eventually most of the museum’s holdings were sold off, which was a cause of bitter discord. However, a small portion — primarily archaeological materials — was transferred to storage at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke. There those objects remained for 40+ years until 2007 and 2008 when they were conveyed to Skinners of Boston for public auction.
Many of the artifacts auctioned on behalf of Wistariahurst Museum (and the Museum of Natural History and Art?) had been collected during the 19th century and may have belonged to the Sherman Collection. Most originated in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and even farther afield; however, ancient specimens from find-spots along New England’s Connecticut River valley were also put up for sale. While artifacts from the immediate region may have been donated by local residents, most of the relics from outside New England likely were obtained for the Sherman Collection through trade advertisements in now-defunct archaeological publications such as the American Archaeologist.
I attended the 2008 auction of archaeological materials consigned by Wistarahurst and was fortunate to purchase several large box-lots. At the bottom of one of the boxes underneath a pile of New England celts, plummets, flaked stone points, catalogued Mousterian flaked stone tools from Tabun Cave (Israel), and other curiosities was a rimsherd of a steatite vessel that had been re-worked as a gorget or pendant. It had been perforated three times anciently using a drill that left bi-conical holes. The bore diameters were almost identical and measured about 7 mm.
I paid scant attention to the gorget until later when I unpacked my prizes at home. Then, to my amazement, I turned over the artifact and beheld the busts of two anthropomorphic figures that had been sculpted in low relief. The pair of figures had round heads (both 35 mm in diameter) — looking for the world like lollipops — and both had such delightful, open countenances that they made me laugh.
Closer inspection of the steatite bowl sherd revealed that its rim (8-9 mm thick) had been crudely scored or marked with cuts. The wall of the original bowl thickened abruptly below it; right where the faces have been sculpted thickness is an impressive 22-23 mm. Of course, it is difficult to judge overall shape and size of a steatite bowl from a sherd that is only 105 mm (about four inches) long; yet, the gorget’s curvature suggests that the original bowl may have been oblong and large.
Such bowls are well known for the Terminal Archaic Susquehanna Tradition with its Frost Island phase ((900-1200 radiocarbon years BC) and a derivative phase — Orient (600-900 RCYBC). We may ask if the faces were sculpted shortly after the bowl was salvaged 2,600-3,200 years ago or were they a more recent addition? Close inspection of the sculptures and the rest of the gorget using a 410 nanometer (blue) light source of high intensity indicates that all surfaces of the artifact fluoresce to the same high degree. This test is a clear indicator of the close contemporaneity of the sculpture and the vessel from which it was fashioned.
Other “Lollipop-shaped” Heads
When I first beheld the sculptures with their unusual circular heads, I was reminded of the panels of circular heads that have been cut into granite bedrock at Bellows Falls, Vermont, on the Connecticut River. Their existence has long been known (see Calogero 1983 for a review and description); however, their absolute age has not been established.
Although the Bellows Falls petroglyphs lack noses and have circular mouths, rather than slits, they are closer in conception to the steatite gorget from Holyoke than any other eastern North American artifact I have witnessed. Therefore, these sculpture sets may have a roughly equivalent antiquity.
Among Iroquoian peoples anthropomorphic representations with rounded, “goggle” eyes belong to the realm of the spirits. They are found on masks, protective charms, and smoking pipes facing away from the smoker. A gorget with such spirit figures sculpted upon it would protect and benefit its wearer. Thus, we hope that the logo of the New England Chapter of the American Society for Amateur Archaeology will, now the New England Society for Amateur Archaeology, do likewise for the Membership!
Richard Michael Gramly, PhD
North Andover, Massachusetts
Calogero, Barbara Anderson
Rock art of New England. The Archaeological Society of Connecticut Bulletin 46: 1-15.
Caption for photographs.
Figure 1. Two views of gorget or protective charm with spirit figures. The sculpture was carved in low relief upon a rimsherd of a steatite vessel. Note the three drilled holes expanding at their mouth. The back side is smooth and has a low-luster polish — perhaps resulting from being worn.. Length = 105 mm; greatest width = 65 mm. Weight = 254.4 grams.
Read Bill Moody’s contributions (articles 1 & 18) to the AMATEUR ARCHAEOLOGIST ONLINE JOURNAL CLICK HERE