Image by A.Davey
The label states:
Artist: Unrecorded Caddoan artist
Geography:United States, Spiro area, Oklahoma
Medium:Busycon whelk shell
Dimensions:D. 3/4 × Diam. 4 1/4 in. (1.9 × 10.8 cm)
Credit Line:Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY (T0001)
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 359
Shell neck ornaments, or gorgets, were ancient badges of high rank and office. This example depicts a warrior involved in a ritual observance. He wears a kilt, moccasins, garters, and wristbands, and his hair is elaborately styled. He also carries a raccoon pelt (indicated by the ringed tail) and a rattle. These details of dress are seen in other gorgets that depict rituals involving transformation, especially that of bird-men and raccoon-men.
As soon as we had paid our admission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we made a bee-line for the pre-Columbian collection. I screeched to a halt when I saw this piece, which is one of the rarest objects in the collection.
It is rare because it comes from the poorly understood (at least by me) Caddoan culture of what is now Oklahoma.
I think this object was in the Spiro Mounds, which is one of the great looting tragedies in the history of North American archaeology.
Spiro Mounds (34 LF 40) is major Northern Caddoan Mississippian archaeological site located in Eastern Oklahoma. The 80-acres site lies near the Arkansas River in Fort Coffee, seven miles north of the town of Spiro. Between the 9th and 15th centuries, the local people created a powerful religious and political center, culturally linked to the Mississippian Ideological Interaction Sphere (MIIS). Spiro was a major western outpost of Mississippian culture. Spiro Mounds is under the protection of the Oklahoma Historical Society and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the 1930s during the Great Depression treasure hunters bought the rights to tunnel into Craig Mound—the second-largest mound on the site—to mine it for artifacts. They exposed a hollow burial chamber inside the mound, a unique feature containing some of the most extraordinary pre-Columbian artifacts ever found in the United States, including some of fragile, perishable materials: textiles and feathers uniquely preserved in the chamber. The treasure hunters sold the artifacts they recovered to art collectors, some as far away as Europe. Some of these artifacts were later returned to regional museums and the Caddo Nation, though other artifacts have never been accounted for. This site has been significant for North American archaeology since the 1930s, especially due to its many preserved textiles and wealth of shell carving.