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Thunderbird Effigies (Carved)

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  • Thunderbird Effigies (Carved)

    Although knapped thunderbird (sometimes called eagle) effigies are common items regarded by archaeologists as modern fakes and fantasy pieces, genuine examples made by Native Americans do actually exist. But their form and nature is distinctly different from the fakes which are knapped from stones such as flint, chert, jasper, agate and obsidian.

    Genuine items are extremely rare and almost unique to the Northern Plains area – particularly Mandan culture sites in the date range of 1,000 to 1,500 AD. Such items aren’t knapped. They’re always carved (and sometimes polished) – mostly from shell, occasionally from bone and even more rarely still from easily worked non-knappable stones such as limestone and catlinite.

    These illustrations are from “Thunderbird Effigies from Plains Village Sites in the Northern Great Plains” by Robert E. Warren:

    One of these items (third row, extreme right, labelled ‘l’) was found at the Swift Bird mound site, which is part of a series of early Besant and Sonota burial mounds and other related sites in North and South Dakota dating between 1,350 and 1,950 years ago. It’s the only documented find I know of which has come from a mound.

    This picture of some fragmentary items comes from a generic information sheet published by the University of Iowa:

    It was accompanied by this text: “A few very special artifacts were used in the ritual or ceremonial realms of certain prehistoric groups. At village sites of northwestern Iowa’s Late Prehistoric Mill Creek culture, small lens-shaped quartz or basalt discoidals and thunderbird effigies of limestone and catlinite have been found”.

    There are more details on the knapped fake and fantasy items here:
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.