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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.

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"....The truth is out there."

-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)

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-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


-- Indian Artifact --


And now for something totally
different.... :-)

Artist/naturalist Mark Ross in Fairbanks Alaska sends in an inquiry about a sketch of an Indian artifact he came across in a biography of artist Ernest T. Seton. He believes it may be Ivo
ry-bill-related. If you can help Mark settle his question, or point him in the direction of someone who can, please reply in the comments, or if necessary, you may email to me for passing along to Mark (the image in question is down below), and here is what Mark has to say:

"Here’s something ivorybill related that I’ve wondered about for quite a while now… Audubon and Catesby described Indian ornaments that were decorated with the tufts and bills of ivorybills. Sometimes fashioned in the form of a coronet. Catesby: “The bills of these Birds are much valued by the Canada Indians, who make coronets of them for their Princes and great warriers, by fixing them round a wreath, with their points outward.” In an illustrated biography of Ernest Thompson Seton (b.1860-1946) by Samson: Adventures in the Wild, p. 185 depicts Seton’s pencil illustration of what may be a wreath/coronet of 20 woodpecker bills. It’s the first illustration of the chapter titled: “Indians and Woodcraft”. There’s no caption or explanation of the drawing. Seton, from Canada, is known for his studies of Native American culture and excellent renderings of nature.
I believe the drawing depicts a coronet of bills. Perhaps ivorybills. Some of the pieces are drawn wide enough at the base to be bills, and these are probably old dry bills that have shrunk and may appear generally thinner than a live bill. Notice the longitudinal shading along the length of some pieces. the longitudinal shading is describing a piece that is angled down on both sides from the center line. A feather doesn’t have such sharp angles laterally from the length of the rachis (shaft); definitely not primaries; maybe a sage grouse tail feather? No they’re flatter, and Seton would probably draw some of the distinct color pattern. Also, look carefully at the longitudinal shading. The shaded side has lighter longitudinal lines within the dark part. I believe the lighter lines within the shaded area depict the “chisel-like bevels” that are present on woodpecker bills (noticeably extending from the nares)."

Any thoughts?.... Any Indian artifact museum curators out there???

A reader emails me this response:

"I did some cursory research and learned that the “kanada” tribe was associated with the St. Lawrence River Valley (north bank) in French Canada. Given this fact and the tribe’s considerable spatial separation from the former range of IBWO, it seems highly unlikely that the artifact has any association with the species. Yes, tribes were known to trade various items, but again it would seem illogical for numerous IBWO bills to travel to such a distant tribe for the fabrication of a common ornament. As we know, native tribes were more likely to employ locally available or acquired materials for adornment or crafts.

Had this been an artifact of Mississippi culture or another native American culture within the specie’s range, it would seem more plausible, but linking it to a far distant culture from the IBWO ecosystem requires much speculation and little plausibility."
Scott Weidensaul emails this on the subject:

"You're envisioning the mystery object as much smaller than it is - it's a traditional Plains Indian dance bustle, which was tied on at the waist, with two cloth tails hanging down almost to the ground, decorated with ribbons, tin cones and small, round trade mirrors, and with a starburst of feathers (tipped with white eagle down) in the middle. My guess is the drawing depicts a bustle made from the long, narrow central tail feathers of a greater sage grouse, with an inner rosette of smaller tail feathers. The two "antenna" rising from each side are tipped with down, and bounce and spring as the dancer moves.

If you Google "traditional Plains Indian dance bustle" you'll see some simple examples like Seton's, but also many examples of elaborate "fancy dance" regalia used in modern dance competitions.

Sorry, no IBWO bills..."
and Mark Ross now adds this:

Mary Scott says in 2002:
“There is a peace pipe in one museum that is decorated with 6 bills and crests of ivorybills. Bills were also traded among Indian peoples – with some traveling into collections in the far west.”

"More about my[Mark's] take on the Seton piece:
If they are ivorybills, why are there no crown crests attached. From historical descriptions and Scott’s above, crests were very often with the bills."
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