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Thunderbird & Eagle Effigies

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  • Thunderbird & Eagle Effigies

    Thunderbird & Eagle Effigies
    Posted by [Painshill]:

    Thunderbird effigies (some call them eagle effigies) crop up again and again on the forum. Often they are “attic finds”, or are said to have been found while digging, or come with a story that they have been handed down through the family and someone’s father or grandfather found them in a field.

    On close examination they often show every sign of having been made with modern metal tools, frequently have no patination (although they are often “dirtied up” a bit, or artificially stained to create an impression of antiquity).

    No such items are known from any reliable archaeological context in any part of North America and those that have turned up are judged to be modern fantasy pieces by all respected archaeologists. The general archaeological consensus is (and has been for a long time) that they are fake – in the sense that they are not authentic Native American items. There are reports of these knapped items turning up as far back as the 1890’s and they were generally regarded by archaeologists as fakes even then. It’s odd how – from such a vast geographic spread of claimed find areas - the form and shape can be so similar. Well, no, not odd. Impossible.

    Here are some typical examples from sellers on ebay:

    caveman_arrowheads (left) and jamesclearwater (right)

    wepayauctions (left) and saleshop123 (right)

    Note that none of these sellers makes specific claims for authenticity, antiquity or attribution and that most sellers (of which there are many) refer to them as ”curiosity”, “collectable” or “souvenir” pieces. Some use terms such as “Native American?” (ie followed by a question mark).

    The pieces are typically in the region of about an inch but sometimes as big as five or six inches (especially those with spread wings). They are invariably knapped, usually from flint/chert and occasionally from jasper or obsidian.

    Although it’s possible that some of these kinds of pieces may be up to 120 years old and could conceivably have been knapped by Native Americans on reservations for sale to tourists at trading posts, there is no evidence for them being produced as authentic cultural items. Most such pieces were produced in the period when there was strong collector interest in “Indian artefacts” and were made by non-native knappers keen to cash in on the trend. There was also a revival of interest in the art of knapping during the early to mid 1900’s and there were many skilled artisans at work churning out fantasy pieces for souvenir sale in gift shops, as well as outright fakes intended to deceive collectors. Most such pieces originated in Mexico.

    There are modern examples from Mexico at the top of the following web-page, priced at $4.50 at the time of writing:

    Increasingly these days, pieces are coming from India and China. At the links below you can see several different forms being sold very cheaply in bulk from a company that has the capability to supply 50,000 pieces a month:

    The thunderbird as a motif (glyphs, paintings, baskets, pots etc) seems to have wide usage… but that usage increases as the age of the examples decreases. That is – as an iconographic image – it has been exploited more in modern times (and by non-Natives) than it seems to have been in ancient times. There are various references to arrangements of stones and such at a megalithic level to create bird shapes in the form of pavements and mounds which are regarded as authentic Native American consructions. But it isn’t always clear that these constructions represent thunderbirds – as opposed to other kinds of birds.
    Despite all of that, there are in fact genuine examples of these effigy forms but they are extremely rare and confined to the Northern Plains area. They’re not usually made from stone and – if they are – they’re not knapped from stones like flint, chert, jasper, agate or obsidian.

    [compiled by painshill]
    Last edited by painshill; 01-27-2016, 06:22 PM.
    Look to the ground for it holds the past!