Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Little Jingle At Fort St. Joseph

As my fellow students have shown in previous blog entries, we have found (and found out) so many interesting things while working at the Fort St. Joseph site. My unit, N29 E12, is no exception! Last week, while I was wet screening a bucket of our dirt from 30-35cm below datum, one inconspicuous clump of mud melted away to reveal what looked like a squished, rusty, hollow metal ball about 1.75 cm in diameter. At first I thought it was a button, because there was a small loop on one side of the artifact. The chipped underside was more telling, however: There, the metal was very thin, and one half was bent inward toward the center, along a slot. Upon closer inspection and consultation with the field staff, we concluded this artifact was not a button, but a metal alloy bell!
Powell JW. 1894. Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Back of the recently excavated hawk bell.
(photo by Aaron Howard)
Artifacts like this one are referred to as hawk bells. They are made of brass, and when complete are made up of four elements: the crown, back, eye, and clanker or clapper (Charles Hulse, Fort St. Joseph Artifacts, 1977). The crown and back make up the main shell of the bell – the back is the top, while the crown is the bottom and has a slit across it (Lyle Stone, Fort Michilimackinac 1715-1781, 1974). The eye is a small loop on the back.  Finally, the clanker is a small loose piece of either iron or lead that is put inside the shell to produce that familiar jingle when the bell is rattled. When the crown and back are joined together, there is often a seam or raised lip around the middle of the bell (Hulse 1977). This holds true for a number of other bells that have been found at the Fort St. Joseph site in previous years – including this bell. Even more interesting is the fact that this bell is missing its clanker. This is likely due to the fact that half of its crown was broken off either before it was disposed of or while it slept beneath the soil. Even if this were not the case and this bell was otherwise complete, the clanker might still be missing, rusted away considerably more than the brass shell, especially if the clanker was iron (Jim Maus, Indian Brass Hawk Bells, 2013). Missing element aside, the most remarkable feature of this particular bell is its unique, squat, almost oblong shape – not unlike a few specimens uncovered at Fort Michilimackinac!
The fact that hawk bells like this one have been found at other French forts gives us an important hint about their origins. Made in Europe, these bells were brought over to the Americas to trade with the indigenous peoples (Maus 2013). The Native Americans then wore them like jewelry, or affixed them to clothes. To this day, similar bells are incorporated in some of our regalia, alongside other small items that our ancestors once traded for, like glass beads. In fact, such personal adornments were among the first goods traded with the Native Americans as far back as 1492, when Christopher Columbus landed near San Salvador (Maus 2013). Beads and bells did not make it further inland until the Europeans began to explore the interior of the continent.
I got a fever and the only prescription is more hawk bell.
(photo by Aaron Howard)
So, why are these artifacts called hawk bells? The term comes from their original uses in falconry. Starting in about the 13th century AD, Europeans put these small bells on their hunting birds so they were easier to find (Maus 2013). Hawk bells are essentially cat collars, but for raptors! However, because falconry was restricted to all but the social elite in France and England, it seems unlikely Fort St. Joseph’s non-indigenous inhabitants brought along their own birds of prey. Even so, hawk bells definitely played a part in the functions of Fort St. Joseph, serving as yet another medium of exchange. And who knows? Perhaps the Europeans at the fort picked up on the bell-wearing trend, too!

-Amelia Harp

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