Subject:      Re: C. moneta and methodologies
From:         "Yuri Kuchinsky" 
Date:         1997/10/11
Message-ID:   <01bcd676$39a486e0$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,sci.anthropology


Thank you for looking further into these matters.

I have read your latest contribution, and have some comments to make in
this regard. 

IMHO, what we have with these cowries is an interesting, and _long
neglected_ historical problem. Perhaps what we have so far presents us
with more questions than answers. Indeed, quite a few questions remain in
this area, and you ask some of them further on. I certainly don't have
many answers to give you as yet. Is this surprising? 

It has been said that in scientific research it is sometimes most
important to be able to ask the right kinds of questions. This way, the
way to solving the problem can be found. 

But the first thing, of course, is to admit that we do have a serious and
puzzling historical problem on our hands. If we can define it correctly,
we are already well on the way to solving it. This is the correct

Before we go any further in our discussions, it would be nice to obtain
from you some sort of an acknowledgement that we do have a scholarly
historical problem with these cowries. We have the actual probable non-New
World cowries in precolumbian contexts, and we have strong indications
that many ancient rituals of the Native Americans have clear parallels in
various places in the Old World. We don't know how to explain all this.
The purpose of this research is presumably to try to obtain the answers to

Nowhere in your post do you try to define this problem or even to admit
that it exists. All of your post is an attempt to do what? To deny that
the problem exists? To minimize that the problem exists? Certainly
everywhere you try very diligently to find fault with the researchers who
brought this problem to our attention. Why are you doing this? How is this
helping us to solve this historical problem? I don't quite understand

But of course if your main intention all along was to try to sweep this
problem under the rug, to pretend it doesn't exist, this is a different
matter altogether. In this case, some real questions about your
methodology can be asked... 

thomas kavanagh <[22]> wrote in article
> Wilfrid Jackson, via Yuri, has given us four examples of cowries in
> pre-Columbian
> North America:
> - the Roden mound
> - W.H. Holmes' illiustrations
> - the Lewis and Clark dress
> - Ojibwa/Menomini Midewiwin
> The Roden mound example is the only unquestionably pre-Columbian
> context; it is problematic in other respects and has beend iscussed
> elsewhere.

Lest you forget, let me remind you that although this example may be
problematic in some respects, it is not really problematic in one respect,
i.e. as a seeming indicator of transoceanic contacts in ancient times. 

> The other examples do deserve some, however brief, comment.
> Starting first with Holmes' illustrated shells,

> Yuri wrote:  

> > Also, Jackson writes about his careful analysis of an illustrated > >
publication by W. H. Holmes, ART IN SHELL OF THE ANCIENT AMERICANS > >
(Second Annual Report of [the Bureau of] Ethnology, Washington, 1883, pp.
179-305) In > > this publication, some shells "exhumed from ancient graves
of North > > America" (without a more precise attribution than that they
came from > > the West Coast) are illustrated. Jackson draws our attention
to Fig. 11, > > in that publication in which is portrayed, according to
him, _Cypraea> > caput-serpentis_, an Indo-Pacific species. Also, he
identifies in Fig.> > 12 an _Ovula (Calpurnus) verrucosa, L._. This shell,
similar to the money cowry, is native to the Asian seas, and, like the
previous one, > > does not occur naturally in America. 

> The particular shells in question, figs. 11 and 12 on plate XXXII after
> page 220, are described under the heading "Perforated Beads":
> "Under this head I shall examine briefly the manner of piercing or
> altering the smaller varieties of shells preparatory to stringing. The
> multitudes of perforated shells exhumed from the graves of our ancient
> tribes afford a fruitful field of study and our large collections of
> recent specimens serve to illustrate the manner in which they were
> employed."
> "Fig 11 illustrates a perforated Cyprea from the Pacfic Coast. This is a
> recent speciment which illustrates an ancient as well as a modern method
> of perforation."
> "Fig 12 shows a rather peculiar methods of treating Cyprea shells by the
> tribes of the Pacific Coast and the Pacific Islands. The back is cut
> away ... This is also an ancient as well as a modern methods of
> treatment."
> The point here is that while Holmes did indeed refer to shells "exhumed"
> from graves, there is no indication that figs 11 and 12 were so
> "exhumed"; indeed, fig 11 is explicitly called "recent".

The fact that it is called "recent" is neither here nor there. I.e., How
recent? How did it get into the grave in the first place? If it
illustrates ancient methods of perforation, it then probably means that
there are some similar ancient shells. 

> Furthermore,
> the parameters of the word "ancient" are not clear:


> did he mean "ancient
> America" or ancient "Pacific Islands."

Good questions. I hope you realize that these questions are not to be
dismissed so easily.

> > Jackson also writes about other cases where money cowries were found
in > early Amerindian contexts. One is as the decoration on a woman's
dress.> > According to Mr. Charles C. Willoughby, the Peabody Museum, > >
Cambridge, Mass., contains a dress of a Cree woman, collected by> > the
Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-5, on which are four dozen > > cowries
(see American Anthropologist, 1905, for picture of the > > dress). (p.

> We must first note that 1804-05 is *not* an "early Amerindian context".

Early enough for consideration.

> There are some problems with the dress itself. As I noted in an earlier
> post, the documentation on the dress is unclear. While it probably did
> come to the Peabody from the old Peale Museum, the accompanying
> documentation was a tag which called it an "Indian hunting shirt made
> from buffalo skin owned and worn by Capt. Clark on his exploring
> expedition." The  Cree attribution was by Willoughby, and Norman Feder,
> dean of American Indian art studies, has questioned it in a Winter 1984
> article in American Indian Art magazine.

Can you please explain in what way is the above significant to the larger
thesis of Jackson? 

> [Also, the number 'four dozen' came from Morse/Willoughby?; there are
> forty-eight cowries on the dress.]

And what is the significance of this exactly?

> Finally we come to the Ojibwa/Menomini Midewiwin. This is really the
> heart of Jackson's/Yuri's argument. However, once again there are
> problems.

> > Jackson writes,> > > > The money-cowry (Cypraea moneta) is, and has
been for centuries, a > > sacred object among the Ojibwa and Menomini
Indians of North > > America, and is employed in initiation ceremonies of
the Grand > > Medicine Society. > > Jackson says that the traditions
associated with cowries were believed > > by the Ojibwa to have been given
to them originally by their hero-god > > Minabozho. (p. 185) 

> Jackson based his discussion on a summary of Walter J. Hoffman's
> articles in the 7th and 14th annual reports of the Smithonian's Bureau
> of [American] Ethnology (BAE) dealing with the Ojibwa (7th) and Menomini
> (14th).

This is incorrect. Jackson studied this matter for great many years, and
has written about this on a number of occasions. He has used other sources
as well. 

> This is what Hoffman had to say about the Ojibwa:

> p. 144) "This spirit, who acted as an intercessor between the Kitshi
> Manido (Great Spirit) and the Indians, is known among the Ojibwa as
> Minabozho..."


> That is the extent of Hoffman's discussion of cowries among the Ojibwa.
> Note that while Hoffman did state that the "traditions associated with
> [the Midewiwin] were believed  by the Ojibwa to have been given to them
> originally by their hero-god Minabozho", the linkage with cowries was
> minimal.

In Hoffman perhaps, but there's also other material associating these
rituals with cowries.

> Moreover, according to Hoffman, cowries were only one of
> several kinds of white shell which could serve as migis.

And why is this so significant?

> Note also that Hoffman gave no dates for the antiquity of the use of
> cowries, thus the phrase "has been for centuries" -- supplied by Jackson
> ? --  is an assertion rather than documentation.

You assume throughout that Jackson has only one source. This is incorrect. 

> One of the major criticisms of the old-time Diffusionists was their
> tendency to take cultural traits out of context. Thus Yuri's comment

> >So it's not like he found some odd objects that may be intrusive, and
out of place and> >out of context.  Everything that he says makes sense
and fits together.

> That is, Yuri tells us that Jackson's theories are indeed within 
> context.


> And what is that context?

> >As I already mentioned, C. [m]oneta were the sea shells sacred to
Aphrodite, and had >many ritual fertility and sexual connotations.  They
were good luck charms for women, >given to girls at early age. Such uses
of these shells, incredible as it may sound, are >consistent in great many
areas of the world. Surely this is very significant, and may >relate to
earlier times when female deities were as important as male gods in
popular >religions. 

> But Yuri also says

> > Jackson illustrates parallels with similar practices in China, where >
> these shells were also used in funeral contexts. 

> And

> > He describes in detail the rituals associated with these shells,
having > > to do with the death and resurrection of the candidate being

> That is,  the context of the cowrie is: Aphrodite, fertility, sexual
> connotations, charms for women, female deities, funerals, death and
> resurrection. Only by a long extension can "with his Mide bag shot the
> sacred megis into his body that be might have immortality" be linked to
> "death and resurrection".

How's this again, Tom? You surprise me here. Immortality has nothing to do
with death and resurrection??? 

> None of the other elements are related to the
> Midewiwin.

According to you.

> > Jackson writes that > > rice also figured in such rituals in China
(cowries and rice grains were > > placed into the mouths of the dead). It
is interesting that the Native > > Americans also used rice together with
cowries, but they used the wild > > rice. >

> The only mention of wild rice in either of Hoffman's books is a two page
> discussion of the Menomini ('rice men') manner of harvesting and cooking
> wild rice. There is no connection made between rice and cowries.


> Indeed,
> the only connection in Jackson's comment is the word 'rice'. But there
> is no botanical connection between the two;

And did I say there was?

> wild rice is of the genus
> Zizania with domesticated rice is Oryza.

So? What is the significance of this, exactly?

> Yuri noted,

> >The cowries must have arrived to America together with the associated

> But from where?

Perhaps you expect me to supply all the answers already. Do you think I
have the Chrystal Ball perhaps? 

> Above, Jackson/Yuri noted similarities with China. Yuri
> also makes links with Africa:

> >Further, Jackson also writes about > > The apparent identity in the
spitting out of cowries [ritual] by > > the Togo priests of West Africa
and by the medicine men of the > > Ojibwa and Menomini Indians... (p. 186)
> >Jackson also writes about the close parallels in association of the >
>money-cowry with the "medicine bags" both in America, and in the Sierra >
>Leone, in Africa. 

> This is a prime example of the cut-and-paste method of ethnography.

This is completely irrelevant, Tom. What kind of method would you like? I
have presented valid evidence for these interesting connections. If I
could phone the Delphic Oracle I would have given you all the explanations
for what was going on at the time. No such luck. So now perhaps you're
trying to use the fact that I don't have complete answers as an excuse to
pretend that the problem itself doesn't exist? But this would hardly be
responsible scholarship. 

> Thus, again except for the Roden Mound specimen, which is problematic
> for other reasons, all of Jackson's/Yuri's examples of native North
> American pre-Columbian use of cowries are invalid.

I think it is your approach that is invalid and even irresponsible.



Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto -=O=- [23]

Reality is that which, when you stop believing
in it, doesn't go away -=O=- Philip K. Dick

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