Subject:      Re: C. moneta and methodologies
From:         "Yuri Kuchinsky" 
Date:         1997/10/16
Message-ID:   <01bcda07$08ff3320$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,sci.anthropology

Hi, Tom,

The story of the cowry continues now after I came back and reread some of
these passages in Jackson.

It appears to me that your dismissal of much of this evidence was premature
to say the least. It is obvious that your aim all along was to minimise
this evidence so that you could create an impression that our Isolationist
mainstream academic community was not remiss and irresponsible in failing
to confront and to consider these problems that George Carter has been
trying fo so long to draw their attention to. Nevertheless, there are
problems with your strategy. I don't think it is going to work.

tom kavanagh <[22]> wrote in article
> Yuri Kuchinsky wrote:

> > 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 
> > historical problem with these cowries.
> What I  see is an attempt to link a number of citations,

Well, if this is all you see, I wonder what's wrong with your perception...

> which upon
> examination, prove to be in problematic in varying degrees such that no
> unproblematic conclusion can be drawn from the whole.

There's no surprise at all that such old material may be problematic in
some respects. Mainstream academic irresponsibility in ignoring this
evidence is primarily to blame for this, as nobody except Carter bothered
to pay attention to this substantial evidence, and to investigate this
matter further.

> >We have the actual probable  non-New  World cowries in precolumbian

> Based on my research into the four cases cited by Jackson (1917) via
> Yuri, and in Jackson (1916), we have one possible pre-Columbian context,
> the Roden mounds. But until such time as we find that one specimen, and
> see if there has been more recent work on either those mounds or on the
> Copena culture, that one shell also remains problematic.

No doubt it will remain so until someone will decide to investigate this
further in detail. Meanwhile, what is abundantly clear is the tunnel vision
of many mainstream scholars who were asleep while this exciting evidence
was gathering dust on museum shelves.

And yet, the balance of probabilities is telling me that this example is
valid until shown not to be so.

So now let's look at the other evidence.

> > and we have strong indications that many ancient rituals of the Native
Americans have clear > > parallels in various places in the Old World. 

> What we have are citations for two versions of the same ceremony in
> neighboring -- and linguistically related -- tribes which could use C.
> moneta as a migis, as well as other shells.

This is incorrect, as I explain further.

> Those commentators on the
> Midewiwin who make comment on the question of its antiquity state
> something to the effect of "The Midewiwin developed during the early
> eighteenth century as a response to European influence..." (Stone and
> Chaput, "History of the Upper Great Lakes Area", Vol. 15, Handbook of
> North American Indians, p.605).

This is meaningless pabulum. How did they figure it was developed in the
18 c.? Why and how such rituals, with so many parallels elsewhere, could
have been developed in the 18 c.? 


> > > 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". 

> > How did it get into the grave in the first place?
> From the information we have, there is no way of stating that is *was*
> indeed in a grave.

Tom, these objections of yours seem designed merely to minimize this
evidence. Admittedly, this evidence cannot be seen as too weighty, as the
provenance of these shells is not too clear. And yet it stands to reason
that at least one of them came from a grave.

> > If it  illustrates ancient methods of perforation, it then probably
means that there are > > some  similar ancient shells.

> Unfortunately, Holmes did not identify where his shell came from, and a
> search of the Handbook of North American Indians Vols. 5 (Arctic), 7
> (Northwest Coast), 8 (California) Phillip Drucker's "Cultures of the
> North Pacific Coast", and Alfred Kroeber's "Handbook of the Indians of
> California", produces no mention of cowries in ancient American Pacific
> graves.

This is too bad, because Jackson says the following on p. 193:

"Regarding the use of cowries in S. California, Frederick W. Putnam [in
Report U.S. Geog. Surv. west of 100 merididan, vol. vii. -- Archaeology,
Washington D. C.] gives some interesting particulars, though these are
somewhat lacking in detail. He writes (p. 252): "The fact that the Indians
of California ... often decorated their implements and utensils with the
same materials which they employed for personal ornament, is proved by
articles collected from the graves ... ""

Examples of Cypraea found in graves follow in this passage.

So here's one more instance of important old evidence being disregarded by
our modern reference books. Irresponsible. 


> > I hope you realize that these questions are not to be
> > dismissed so easily.
> I did not dismiss them. But without further specifcation of  what
> specimens he was illustrating from which sites and from what time
> periods, Holmes' examples remain extremely problematic, and
> unproblematic conclusions cannot be based on them.

Nevertheless, these examples, on the whole, do add weight to the other
evidence presented by Jackson.

> > > 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
> >
> > Early enough for consideration.
> On what grounds.

On the grounds that we don't know how these cowries got to be on that
dress. So, can you answer this question, Tom? Probably not... And do you
have any curiousity about this at all? And if you don't, why are you
dealing with this matter in the first place? What kind of a scholar are
you if you can say no more about this fascinating puzzle than that this
evidence is "problematic" -- and leave it at this? The fact that the
cowries are on the dress is not problematic _in the least_... 

This is what I call the questions of methodology, and your approach does
raise quite a number of them, unfortunately... It does seem to me that
your only concern in this is to try to minimise the evidence, and to ask
me to answer plenty of very difficult questions, while you don't try at
all to suggest _any_ answers yourself... This just doesn't seem right... 


> >> 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.

> I cited what Jackson cited in his 1916 Nature article. If he cited any
> other sources in his 1917 book, please tell us what they were.

Another source he gives is James Greenwood, CURIOSITIES OF SAVAGE LIFE,
London, 1863, p. 24. He also cites his own study that deals more
specifically with this issue, MANCH. MEMOIRS, vol. lx. (1916), No. 4. The
article in NATURE was merely a short version of this. 

So why, Tom, are you jumping to conclusions in such haste to minimise and
to discredit his research? Why are you casting aspersions on this highly
responsible scholar who dedicated many years of his professional life to
this issue? Beats me if I can understand your approach, unless it is
driven by an urgent need to dismiss this evidence as soon as possible so
that the Isolationist faith of our academic mainstream can remain
undisturbed a little bit longer? 

> > > 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. 

And here, Tom, it seems that you are trying to cut corners, and to
overlook some important evidence. Hardly a responsible approach. As you
yourself correctly noted, Jackson admits on p. 184 that: 

"... among the Ojibwa, according to Hoffman, it [the sacred shell = migis]
consists of a small white shell, of almost any species: but the one
believed to resemble the mythical migis is similar to the money-cowry." 

But, and you seemed to neglect this very conveniently, Jackson ALSO says" 

"Among the Menomini the sacred shell appears always to be the small white
money-cowry, C. moneta..." 

And he adds in the footnote:

"The example figured by Hoffman (op. cit., 1891, pl. xi., fig. 1) is
interesting, as it is perforated at one end as if for suspension; it is of
the dwarf var. atava of C. moneta." 

So here we go, Tom. Let's be more respectful of our sources, please. It is
really not a proper methodology to pick and choose what supports your
case, and to omit what doesn't... 

To summarize now, the Menomini used the cowry from Asia in their sacred
ceremonies. Why was this so, and how they got both the ritual itself, and
the cowry, remains unknown. The problem remains. Your attempts to get rid
of it, and to pretend it doesn't exist, are not valid in the least. 

Further along in your response to me, you try to question some very
isolated examples I gave of the contexts of cowry use in America and in
the world at large. Tom, Jackson devotes half of his book to various
contexts of cowry use. I really cannot summarize the whole book for you,
however much I would have liked to do so. If you're really interested,
please try to get this book and read it. But it's really not fair, or
responsible on your part, to take these things in isolation, and to lump
them together the way you do. This is not any kind of a joke, Tom. This is
serious research by a responsible scholar. So the least you can do is to
show some responsibility as well... 

> > > 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???
> There is nothing in the Mide about "death" or "resurrection".

This is certainly incorrect, Tom. Jackson writes on p. 185:

"... [the candidate] becomes unconscious and falls forward on his face.
The chief medicine man then raises the candidate's head slightly from the
ground, and a sacred cowry drops from the candidate's mouth." 

So why is this not a ritual symbolizing death and resurrection? Why would
you like to deny the obvious? 

There's plenty more in Jackson about this use of cowries in clear contexts
of death and resurrection. So please read the book. 

> >>> 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

> > So?
> So indeed! Jackson mentioned rice in both his 1916 Nature paper, and
> apparently, in his 1917 book. Since we cannot ask him about his motives,
> why did YOU repeat it?

Can you really not understand what is going on here, Tom, or are you just
stalling in the hope of seeing me give up on this matter, so that the
whole matter could be dismissed? I really have trouble believing you will
not see the relevance of this. 

Jackson says,

"Wild rice, it might be added, also enters into the ritual of Ojibwa and
Menomini ceremonies." (p. 186) 

He does not give a citation for this statement in this publication. This
is probably a simple unintended omission on his part. So are you now going
to make a big deal about the missing footnote? Yes, I fully expect you to
make this into a _cause celebre_, seeing the sort of often niggling
arguments you try to throw at Jackson. I, for my part, have no doubt that
Jackson did not take this information out of the thin air, but that this
information is based on some of the research he has done. 

Was wild rice used in these ceremonies? I think it was. So what are you
going to do about this now? 

You also said:

> > > This is a prime example of the cut-and-paste method of ethnography.
> >
> > This is completely irrelevant, Tom.
> No sir,  it is not irrelevant, it is exactly to the point. Above you
> argued that  "Everything that he says makes sense and fits together."

And I still say this.

> But these examples of "parallels" do not make sense

They make perfect sense to me.

> and do not fit
> together.

Certainly do. But you would really have to read the book if you really want
to know for sure.

>  BTW, does Jackson 1917 give citations for his "Togo priests"
> or his "medicine bags" of "the Sierra Leone";

This sort of question betrays very eloquently your sarcastic and extremely
negative attitude, Tom. It is obvious to me that you are into this with an
express purpose to discredit Jackson's research. Why? Because this
research exposes quite well the Isolationist bias of our academic

Here's the citation for Sierra Leone:

RELIGION, AND CUSTOMS. Proc. Roy. Irish Academy, vol. xxx, sect. C., No.
2, May, 1912, pp. 45, 53, and 67. 

> of the latter, does he
> perchance give an ethnonym?

He does not supply it. But he describes these as rituals of the Human
Leopard Society, and their medicine bag is called Borfimor. 


> Upon reconsideration, I think I would replace "are invalid" with "range
> from merely problematic to strongly problematic".

This is not enough, Tom. I think your attitude is very negative. You have
made not a slightest effort to contribute _anything positive at all_ to
solving these historical problems. True, you have looked up quite a few
sources, but your use of them has been very selective. You have
disregarded evidence that does not support your negative viewpoint. You
have tried to do all you can to magnify the problems with these theories.
While I do admit that some problems exist there, there are not nearly as
many as you would claim. 

You have also tried to make fun of the extreme broadness of these claims
by Jackson. But this is precisely the point. It seems to me that C. moneta
is much more than a shell. It is a very significant and important
mythological symbol that was used for millennia in great many parts of the
world for many different purposes. This C. moneta is the symbol of
something very important: the wide ranging contacts of ancient peoples,
and the astounding abilities of very ancient mariners to cross the oceans
-- something that the Europeans could not do until this art was
rediscovered in the 15th century. 

This is the whole lost and VERY ancient and immensely rich world of common
mythologies, and wide-ranging co-operation between different cultures of
the world. This world would have been lost to us had George Carter not
pointed it out to us. For this, I, for one, am extremely grateful to him. 
Your gratitude to Carter was expressed in a variety of nasty personal
attacks on him. This indicates very clearly where you stand on this, Tom. 

The historical scholarship, or the history suppression scholarship? Which
one would it be, Tom? 

Let me close this long post with a quote from Joseph Campbell, HISTORICAL
ATLAS OF WORLD MYTHOLOGY, Vol 2, Part 3, 1989. Cambell talks in this
passage about the preconceived notions, the touching faiths, and the
obvious methodological failure of the American Isolationists who refuse
even to recognize the cultural parallels that exist between America and
the Old World, far from trying to explain them.

"... the virtue of a scientist lies, in contrast to that of a theologian,
in recognizing a fact, not in defending an idea." (p. 365) 

It seems to me that it is the sacred "theological" Agenda of the
Isolationists to turn a blind eye to so many such parallels. And this sort
of perverse "theology" really has very little to do with the scientific



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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