ANCIENT DEER MASK (11,000-year-old hunting bone rituals discovered!)

ANCIENT DEER MASK (11,000-year-old hunting bone rituals discovered!)

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One of the most significant archaeological discoveries in recent times was uncovered at Star Carr in the North of England, where many incredible Mesolithic artifacts have been preserved in a nearby peat bog. A strange ritualistic mask was found; it's made from deer bones and was used during hunting. This raises many fascinating questions about the rituals of our ancestors and their approach to daily life.

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Headdress reconstruction throws light on hunter-gatherer rituals

Flint blades, hammerstones and burning were among the tools and techniques they employed to fashion reproductions of shamanic headdresses discovered during excavations at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire.

The research published today in PLOS ONE is the first scientific analysis of the oldest known evidence of a shamanic costume in Europe. It challenges previously held assumptions over the care and time invested in the modification of the animal’s “skull cap” in order to create these ritualistic artefacts.

Instead the study, part of a five-year project supported by the European Research Council, Historic England and the Vale of Pickering Research Trust, suggests that hunter-gatherers achieved this through expedient manufacturing techniques. These may have involved packing the skull with damp clay and placing it in a bed of embers for up to four hours both to facilitate skin removal and make the bone easier to work.

Archaeologists unearthed a total 24 red deer headdresses at Star Carr representing around 90 percent of all such known artefacts across early prehistoric Europe. The artefacts are formed from the upper part of a male red deer skull with the antlers attached – the lower jaw and cranial bones having been removed and the frontal bone perforated.

The majority of the headdresses were discovered during archaeological investigations at Star Carr in the 1940s though researchers unearthed a further three during excavations in 2013. The most complete of these is likely to have come from a male adult red deer though the animal was 50 per cent larger than its modern counterparts.

Using techniques including 3D laser scanning allowed the team to observe and analyse a number of cut marks radiating out of perforations on both sides of the crania.

The researchers, which also involved researchers from the universities of Bradford, Chester, Manchester, Groningen and Leiden, concluded that hunter-gatherers were likely to have removed the head and superficially cleaned it before starting work on producing the headdress.

The first stage of the process may have involved removal of a large amount of antler possibly to reduce the weight of the headdress and make it easier to work. Some of the removed antler may have formed ‘blanks’ for the production of barbed projectile tips used for hunting and fishing.

But it is also possible that, in some cases, antler blank removal happened much later after the headdress had been used in which case the process may have been a form of decommissioning of the headdress and/or the recycling of antler. The researchers say that given the amount of worked antler present at Star Carr, including over 200 barbed projectile tips, this is a plausible theory.

Lead author Dr Aimée Little, of the BioArCh research centre in the Department of Archaeology at York, said: “This research shows how experimental archaeology can give important insights into rare ancient artefacts. Knowing fire was used invokes a real sense of atmosphere surrounding the making of these ritual shamanic headdresses.”

Professor Nicky Milner, co-director of the excavations at Star Carr, added: “These headdresses are incredibly rare finds in the archaeological record. This is the only site in Britain where they are found, and there are only a few other headdresses known from Germany. This work into how they might have been made has given us an important glimpse into what life was like 11,000 years ago.”

Dr Andrew Wilson, Senior Lecturer and co-director of Bradford Visualisation in the School of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, said: ‘This exciting collaboration enabled the team to use a range of complementary 3D capture methods to document and investigate the modification of the deer crania at a variety of scales, before these waterlogged organic artefacts were subject to conservation treatment. This is a great showcase for how 3D documentation and analysis can transform our ability to understand objects of past societies.”

Where Is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza is located about 120 miles from the modern-day resort town of Cancun, on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

The name Chichen Itza is a Mayan language term for 𠇊t the mouth of the well of the Itza.” The Itza were an ethnic group of Mayans who had risen to power in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula, where the city is located.

The well in the name refers to a number of underground rivers that run beneath the region and likely served as the source of water for the city. This easy access to water made the location perfect for a city the size of Chichen Itza.

Legends of America

Sun Dance ceremony by George Catlin

Ceremony and rituals have long played a vital and essential role in Native American culture. Spirituality is an integral part of their very being.

Often referred to as “religion,” most Native Americans did not consider their spirituality, ceremonies, and rituals as “religion,” in the way that Christians do. Rather, their beliefs and practices form an integral and seamless part of their very being. Like other aboriginal peoples around the world, their beliefs were heavily influenced by their methods of acquiring food, – from hunting to agriculture. They also embraced ceremonies and rituals that provided power to conquer the difficulties of life, as wells as events and milestones, such as puberty, marriage, and death. Over the years, practices and ceremonies changed with tribes‘ needs.

Taos Indian with a peace pipe

The arrival of European settlers marked a major change in Native American culture. Some of the first Europeans that the Indians would meet were often missionaries who looked upon Native American Spirituality practices as worthless superstition inspired by the Christian devil. These early missionaries then determined to convert the Native Americans to Christianity.

As more and more Europeans flooded North America, US and Canadian governments instituted policies to force Natives onto reservations and to encourage them to become assimilated into the majority culture.

This also changed their spiritual traditions and when, in 1882, the U.S. Federal Government began to work towards banning Native American Religious Rights, which impacted their ceremonies. At that time, U.S. Interior Secretary Henry M. Teller ordered an end to all “heathenish dances and ceremonies” on reservations due to their “great hindrance to civilization.” This was further supported the following year by Hiram Price, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, when his 1883 report stated:

“…there is no good reason why an Indian should be permitted to indulge in practices which are alike repugnant to common decency and morality and the preservation of good order on the reservations demands that some active measures should be taken to discourage and, if possible, put a stop to the demoralizing influence of heathenish rites.”

These attempts to suppress the traditions of Native Americans eventually led to the Massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, when the government attempted to stop the practice of the “Ghost Dance,” a far-reaching movement that prophesied a peaceful end to white American expansion and preached goals of clean living, an honest life, and cross-cultural cooperation by Native Americans.

When the Seventh U.S. Cavalry, was sent into the Lakota Sioux’s Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations to stop the dance and arrest the participants, approximately 150 Native American men, women, and children were killed.

Though some traditions were lost along the way, many others survived despite the ban, and various tribes continue to follow many spiritual traditions. Some Native Americans have been devout Christians for generations, and their practices today combine their traditional customs with Christian elements. Other tribes, particularly in the Southwest, have retained their aboriginal traditions, mostly intact.

Rituals & Ceremonies:

Death Ceremonies – Native Americans celebrated death, knowing that it was an end to life on Earth, but, believing it to be the start of life in the Spirit World. Most tribes also believed that the journey might be long, so afterlife rituals were performed to ensure that the spirits would not continue to roam the earth. Various tribes honored the dead in several ways, by giving them food, herbs, and gifts to ensure a safe journey to the afterlife.

The Hopi Indians believe that the soul moves along a Sky path westwards and that those who have lived a righteous life will travel with ease. However, those who haven’t will encounter suffering on their journey.

To ensure a safe journey, they wash their dead with natural yucca suds and dress them in traditional clothes.

Prayer feathers are often tied around the forehead of the deceased, and they are buried with favorite possessions and feathered prayer sticks. Traditional foods and special herbs are served and placed at the graveside.

The Navajo perceived that living to old age was a sign of a life well-lived, thus ensuring that the soul would be born again. Alternatively, they felt that if a tribe member died of sudden illness, suicide or violence, a “Chindi, or destructive ghost could cause trouble for the family of the deceased. Afterlife rituals could last for several days with careful thought given to foods and herbs chosen for the celebration, a reflection on how the deceased lived their life. Common herbs used by the Navajo included Broom Snake Weed, Soap Weed, and Utah Juniper.

Many tribes who had been converted to Catholicism, also celebrated All Souls’ Day, each November 1st, which celebrates the dead. Many believe, that on that day, the spirits return to visit family and friends. In preparation, various tribes would prepare food and decorate their homes with ears of corn as blessings for the dead.

Green Corn Festivals – Also called the Green Corn Ceremonies, this both a celebration and religious ceremony, primarily practiced by the peoples of the Eastern Woodlands and the Southeastern tribes including the Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Yuchi, Iroquois, and others. The ceremony typically coincides in the late summer and is tied to the ripening of the corn crops. Marked with dancing, feasting, fasting, and religious observations, the ceremony usually lasts for three days. Activities varied from tribe to tribe, but the common thread is that the corn was not to be eaten until the Great Spirit has been given his proper thanks. During the event, tribal members give thanks for the corn, rain, sun, and a good harvest. Some tribes even believe that they were made from corn by the Great Spirits. The Green Corn Festival is also a religious renewal, with various religious ceremonies. During this time, some tribes hold council meetings where many of the previous year’s minor problems or crimes are forgiven. Others also signify the event as the time of year when youth come of age and babies are given their names. Several tribes incorporate ball games and tournaments in the event. Cleansing and purifying activities often occur, including cleaning out homes, burning waste, and drinking emetics to purify the body. At the end of each day of the festival, feasts are held to celebrate the good harvest. Green Corn festivals are still practiced today by many different native peoples of the Southeastern Woodland Culture.

Incense over a medicine bundle, by Edward S. Curtis, 1908

Healing Rituals – Symbolic healing rituals and ceremonies were often held to bring participants into harmony with themselves, their tribe, and their environment. Ceremonies were used to help groups of people return to harmony but, large ceremonies were generally not used for individual healing. Varying widely from tribe to tribe, some tribes, such as the Sioux and Navajo used a medicine wheel, a sacred hoop, and would sing and dance in ceremonies that might last for days.

Historic Indian traditions also used many plants and herbs as remedies or in spiritual celebrations, creating a connection with spirits and the afterlife. Some of these plants and herbs used in spiritual rituals included Sage, Bear Berry, Red Cedar, Sweet Grass, Tobacco, and many others.

The healing process in Native American Medicine is much different than how most of us see it today. Native American healing includes beliefs and practices that combine religion, spirituality, herbal medicine, and rituals, that are used for both medical and emotional conditions. From the Native American perspective, medicine is more about healing the person than curing a disease. Traditional healers worked to make the individual “whole,” believing that most illnesses stem from spiritual problems.

In addition to herbal remedies, purifying and cleansing the body is also important and many tribes used sweat lodges for this purpose. In these darkened and heated enclosures, a sick individual might be given an herbal remedy, smoke or rub themselves with sacred plants, and a healer might use healing practices to drive away angry spirits and invoke the healing powers of others.

Sometimes healing rituals might involve whole communities, where participants would sing, dance, paint their bodies, sometimes use mind-altering substances to persuade the spirits to heal the sick person.

Peyote Worship – Some southwest tribes have historically practiced Peyote ceremonies which were connected with eating or drinking of tea made of peyote buttons, the dried fruit of a small cactus, officially called Anhalonium or Laphophora. Native to the lower Rio Grande and Mexico, the name “mescal” was wrongly applied to this fruit by many white observers. The ceremonies were held for specific reasons including healing, baptism, funerals, and other special occasions. Though many have the impression that peyote was smoked, this was not the case, as the peyote button will not burn. Instead, the buttons, either fresh or dried, were eaten or ground into a powder and drank in a tea.

Cheyenne Peyote Leader by Edward S. Curtis

Rites for these ceremonies would generally begin in the evening and continue until the following dawn and were restricted by some tribes only to men. Like other Indian ceremonies, fire and incense were also used to cleanse the mind and body. The ceremony also utilized bird feathers, which represented bird power, preferably those from predator birds, which were strong and thought to protect the worshipper.

The ceremonies were guided by healers, also known as roadmen, as they were thought to guide a person’s journey through life. Most often small drums and rattles were also utilized. The experience is almost identical to taking lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD.

Called the “sacred medicine,” peyote ceremonies are still practiced today by various tribes who believe that it counters the craving for alcohol, heals and teaches righteousness, and is useful in combating spiritual, physical, and other social ills. Concerned about the drug’s psychoactive effects, between the 1880s and 1930s, U.S. authorities attempted to ban Native American religious rituals involving peyote, including the Ghost Dance. Today, the Native American Church is one among several religious organizations to use peyote as part of its religious practice.

Pow-Wows – A relatively modern word, the term derives from the Narragansett word “powwaw,” which means “spiritual leader.” Before the term “pow-wow” became popular, other words were used to describe these gatherings, such as celebration, doing, fair, feast, festival, and more. The closest English translation is “meeting.” Today, it exemplifies all of these events and a modern pow-wow can be any kind of event that both Native American and non-Native American people meet to dance, sing, socialize, and honor American Indian culture. These events might be specific to a certain tribe or inter-tribal.

Planning for a pow-wow generally begins months in advance of the event by a group of people usually referred to as a pow-wow committee and may be sponsored by a tribal organization, tribe, or any other organization that wishes to promote Native American culture. These events almost always feature dance events, some of which are competitive and can last from hours to several days.

The Gathering of Nations is one of the largest Pow-wows in the United States. It is held annually the fourth weekend in April, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Over 500 tribes from around the United States and Canada participate. This event is competitive with 32 dance categories, as well as other competitions for singers and drumming, and a pageant for Miss Indian World. The event also features a Traders Market where Native Americans display their arts and crafts.

Mandan offering the buffalo skull

Vision Quests – Numerous Native Americans practiced the rite of Vision Quests, which was often taken by older children before puberty to “find themselves” and their life’s direction. How the rite was taken, its length and intensity, and at what age varied greatly from tribe to tribe. In most cases, the vision quest was a “supernatural” experience in which the individual seeks to interact with a guardian spirit, usually an animal, to obtain advice or protection.

Much preparation was often taken before the vision quest was undertaken in order to determine the sincerity and commitment of the person. Sometimes the quest required the individual to go alone into the wilderness for several days, in order to become attuned to the spirit world.

Other tribes required the individual to take a long walk or were confined to a small room. Often the individual was required to fast prior to the quest and was not allowed to sleep. During this period of sensory deprivation, the individual was to search for a guardian spirit’s presence or a sign that would be given to them. Once the presence or sign was “seen,” and the individual had realized his/her direction in life, they would return to the tribe to pursue their life’s journey.


Brad Asher, Beyond the Reservation: Indians, Settlers, and the Law in Washington Territory, 1853-1889 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999).

Arthur Ballard, editor, Mythology of Southern Puget Sound: Legends Shared by Tribal Elders (North Bend: Snoqualmie Valley History Museum, 1999).

Dawn Bates, Thom Hess, and Vi Hilbert, Lushootseed Dictionary (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994).

Crisca Bierwert, Brushed by Cedar, Living by the River: Coast Salish Figures of Power (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1999).

Crisca Bierwert, Lushootseed Texts: An Introduction to Puget Salish Narrative Aesthetics (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996).

Cecilia Svinth Carpenter, Where the Waters Begin: The Traditional Nisqually Indian History of Mount Rainier (Seattle: Northwest Interpretive Association, 1994).

George Pierre Castile, editor, The Indians of Puget Sound: The Notebooks of Myron Eels (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985).

J. A. Eckrom, Remembered Drums: A History of the Puget Sound Indian War (Walla Walla, WA: Pioneer Press Books, 1989).

Erna Gunther, Ethnobotany of Western Washington: The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981).

Hermann Haeberlin and Erna Gunther, The Indians of Puget Sound (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985).

Alexandra Harmon, Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

Vi Hilbert, Coyote and Rock and Other Lushootseed Stories (audio cassette) (New York: HarperCollins, 1992).

Vi Hilbert, editor, Haboo: Native American Stories from Puget Sound (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985).

Vi Hilbert and Crisca Bierwert, The Ways of the Lushootseed People: Ceremonies and Traditions of Northern Puget Sound Indians (Seattle: United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, 1980).

Katie Jennings, director, Huchoosedah: Traditions of the Heart (video recording) (Seattle: KCTS-9 and BBC Wales, 1995).

Jay Miller, Lushootseed Culture and the Shamanic Odyssey: An Anchored Radiance (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).

Jay Miller, Shamanic Odyssey: The Lushootseed Salish Journey to the Land of the Dead (Menlo Park, CA: Ballena Press, 1988).

Susie Sampson Peter, Huchoosedah Gweqwultsah: The Wisdom of a Skagit Elder (Seattle: Lushootseed Press, 1995).

Gram Ruth Sehome Shelton, Huchoosedah Siastenu: The Wisdom of a Tulalip Edler (Seattle: Lushootseed Press, 1995).

The Suquamish Museum, The Eyes of Chief Seattle (Suquamish, WA: The Suquamish Museum, 1985).

Wayne Suttles, Coast Salish Essays (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987).

Nile Thompson and Carolyn Marr, Crow's Shells: Artistic Basketry of Puget Sound (Seattle: Dushayay Publications, 1983).

Robin K. Wright, editor, A Time of Gathering: Native Heritage in Washington State (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991).

7 Stiff-Legged Bear

The stiff-legged bear makes an appearance in the lore of several Native American tribes. Most often called Katshituashku or Yawkwawiak, the bear is an elephant-sized version of a giant bear with a taste for human flesh. The Penobscot Nation reports that the big, shaggy mammal had a habit of leaning on trees to rest because it was unable to bend its legs, Katshituashku wouldn&rsquot ever be able to stand up again if it lay down.

In other narratives, the stiff-legged bear is said to have &ldquoteeth long enough to puncture seven hunters.&rdquo Some anthropologists speculate that the stiff-legged bear of legend might actually be the very real prehistoric woolly mammoth&mdashor, rather, various versions of stories of the mammoth that were imaginatively tweaked as they were passed down through the Native Americans&rsquo complex oral histories. It&rsquos been speculated that members of the tribes unearthed mastodon fossils and came to the conclusion that the massive beast was a carnivorous monster because of its enormous tusks.

Some archaeologists now believe that the 11,000-year-old stone circles at Göbekli Tepe in modern Turkey, with carved T-shaped limestone pillars, may have been built by Ice Age hunters resisting the dramatic shift to a settled agricultural way of life.

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Sounds like a major stretch of the imagination to me. ok guys, let's stop rounding up mammoths and learn architecture. Because fuck those farmer dudes

Yeah, you don't just go out and decide to make these. The way they carved a lot of it by removing the stone around it instead of just carving into it is a lot harder. Screw up just a little and congrats! You get to start all over! Also massive blocks. Given the size of the site and that most of it is still buried also kind of points to it not being just "hunter gatherers". Dunno why some people are desperate to keep perpetuating this myth, it's OK to admit you were mistaken ffs. There's also more sites in the area where next to no investigating has been done.

Venus figurines

The so-called "Venus" figurines are one of the characteristic art forms of the Upper Paleolithic period.

Most of the Venus figurines date to between 28,000 and 25,000 years ago and have been found across Europe and Eurasia.

The oldest found so far is the 2-inch-long (5 centimeters) Venus of Hohle Fels, which is made from mammoth ivory. Like the vulture bone flute, it was found in a cave in the Swabian Alps in southwest Germany, and is thought to be at least 35,000 years old.

One of the most famous figurines is the Venus of Willendorf, found in Austria in 1908. Itdates to between 32,000 and 27,000 years ago.

Venus figurines were given the name of an ancient Greek goddess in the 19th century, because they often portrayed a pregnant woman, and it was thought they represented a prehistoric goddess figure but archaeologists have also found a few Venus figurines portraying males, or combining female and male attributes.

Modern Druids

Today, the practice of modern Druidism is alive and well in two different branches of neo-Druidism. The Druid Order was the most well-known contemporary society of modern Druids until the early ‘60s when a new order, known as the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) was established. This division has since gained notoriety across the world, claiming a 20,000-person membership.

OBOD runs online mentorships, classes, and workshops to develop its three disciplines, described as a spiritual practice that speaks to creativity, nature and wisdom. The three categorizations of OBOD are alternatively described as the Singer, Shaman, and Sage.

The Druid Order is known for the ceremonies conducted at Stonehenge throughout the year during Solstices and Equinoxes. They have conducted these for over a century and look to the cycle of the seasons as a regulator and key to unlock inner harmony.

They see modern Druidic beliefs not as a religion, but more as a fraternity or esoteric society that accepts all religions. They also pride themselves in observing and minding their own business. Only when asked for advice will a member of the Druid Order give his opinion.

One of the basics of the Druidic beliefs is the idea of Awen or the divine inspiration. It is otherwise described as gnosis, or the intuitive wisdom derived from the practice of Druidism. It is thought to be unique in every individual and is described as poetic inspiration. Awen is used to describe the poetry used by bards to pass down the story of the Druids, and modern usage describes poets and musicians in the same way. The symbol of Awen is depicted by three rays representing harmony and universal balance.


The Mayer Center, Department of Art of the Ancient Americas collection spans nearly four millennia and includes examples of the artistry developed by communities throughout Mesoamerica, Central and South America, and the Caribbean and Southwestern United States. The collection, which began with a few pieces of northern and western Mexican sculpture, grew exponentially in 1968 with the formation of the department. Notable in particular for its vast holdings of Central American ceramics, jade, and stone sculpture, Denver’s collection stands as one of the most comprehensive and expansive examples in the United States.

Art from the ancient Americas continues to be a touchstone for 20th and 21st century artists. While the collection primarily focuses on objects produced prior to arrival of Europeans, the department recently adopted an expanded scope to include contemporary works that engage with the continued legacy of the past. These objects make clear that space, place, and process are as important today as they were for ancient artists.

The Zuni Way

Two bridesmaids are helping Deidre Wyaco, a Zuni Indian, dress for her big day. She dons her tribe's traditional wedding costume—white moccasins and deer-hide leggings wound from ankle to knee a black wool tunic layered over a white blouse and four saucer-size turquoise-and-silver brooches pinned down the length of her skirt.

The bride's sister, Darlynn Panteah, fastens a turquoise-and-silver squash blossom necklace around Wyaco's neck and adorns her with so many turquoise rings and bracelets that her hands look as if they'd been dipped in blue-green water. Wyaco's niece Michella combs her jet-black hair into a tight bun and smoothes each lock in place while a cousin places a scarf over her shoulders and fixes it with a turquoise-and-silver pin. Then everyone stands back to admire Wyaco, her dress as stark and eye-popping as the red-earth, blue-sky landscape of their home, Zuni Pueblo, on the Zuni Indian Reservation, 40-odd miles south of Gallup, New Mexico.

Zuni Pueblo has witnessed such wedding scenes for millennia. For most Zuni, who call themselves A:shiwi (the origins of "Zuni" are unknown), it would be almost impossible to imagine getting married any place other than here at Halona Idiwan'a, the Middle Place of the World, where, in origin myths, the tribe settled after many years of wandering. The Zuni have dwelled in this broad valley of golden buttes and red mesas for thousands of years, farming, hunting, gathering and practicing their communal way of life and ceremony-rich religion.

It's that religion, the Zuni say, that binds them together. It's what enabled them to withstand the hardships of drought and famine and their conquest, in 1540, by the Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. He had been led to Zuni by a Franciscan friar, who'd seen the pueblo settlement from a distance and claimed it was one of the Seven Cities of Cibola, mystical places said to be laden with riches. Coronado's forces quickly realized that this small pueblo was not Cibola, but they plundered what they could—then claimed Zuni and 80 neighboring pueblos for Spain.

In other parts of the Americas, the Native peoples who had the misfortune to make early contact with Europeans often vanished completely. The Patuxet of New England are gone, as are the Pulacuam of Texas and the J'akaru of Peru. The Zuni, for their part, also came perilously close to disappearing: in 1879, the tribe, believed to have had as many as 4,100 members in the middle to late 1500s, numbered barely 1,700, brought low by smallpox and measles. But today, there are 10,000 Zuni, and the tribal government estimates that 90 percent of them live at Zuni Pueblo, making this tribe one of the most intact in existence. "The Zuni's complex social web seems to hold people. Their religion and language provide a point of ethnic identity," says Dennis Tedlock, an anthropologist at State University of New York at Buffalo, who has published a book on the art of the Zuni storyteller. "And their isolation has worked for them, but against them economically."

Somehow, although they've lost many of their original lands (the reservation encompasses 700 square miles) and many of their cultural and religious objects, they've managed to preserve their core beliefs, even while adding elements from beyond their borders, the world of mainstream America. And so Wyaco, the perfectly dressed Zuni bride, incorporates a few outside touches for her wedding, marching down the aisle not to the beat of a Zuni drum but beneath a white awning decorated with white and pink paper wedding bells to a recording of "Here Comes the Bride." None of the guests—mostly Zuni, with a handful of outside melika (Anglos)—seemed the least surprised.

But they all also knew they were watching a special Zuni moment when Wyaco's sister pushed their paralyzed father down the aisle in his wheelchair so that he could give his daughter away to the groom, Randy Hooee.

"Everyone at Zuni has a role," said one guest, nodding in approval. "No one, no matter what, is left behind. That is—and always has been—the Zuni way."

How, in this era of the Internet, when the outside world with all its material goods and other temptations calls so seductively, do the Zuni manage to maintain their way of life? What is it about the Zuni way that, despite 61 percent unemployment at the pueblo and problems above the national average with drugs, alcohol and diabetes, keeps most of those 10,000 souls at Zuni Pueblo?

"It's the salt," says Randy Nahohai, a celebrated potter in his 40s, with a wink and laugh. Yet his answer is only half-facetious. "I've been outside," he continues, "and I've done a lot of traveling, but it's always good to come home to good chili, and salt that doesn't roll off your food."

We're sitting at his living room worktable in the home he shares with his brother, Milford, also a noted potter, and their families. Like most Zuni today, the Nahohais no longer live in the multistoried adobe dwellings for which Halona, the old part of the Zuni Pueblo, was once famous. Most now favor modest adobe, stucco or mobile homes.

Nahohai hands me a small bowl of salt. "You'll see the difference," he says. The salt, which Zuni men collect on pilgrimages to their sacred Zuni Salt Lake (not to be confused with the larger one in Utah, some 600 miles to the north), has a soft, almost powdery, feel. "We've been collecting our salt at our Salt Lake for thousands of years," Nahohai says. "And that's another reason that we stay here: we're living where our ancestors lived. All these people who were here before you—it makes your head swell up with pride just to be Zuni. I try to show that pride through my work."

In a back bedroom where he and his youngest son sleep, Nahohai produces hand-built pots that he paints with abstract designs of the night sky or stylized images of leaping deer. Nahohai and his brother shape their pottery from clay they collect at a spot that has long been used by the tribe's potters. And they make their paints in the traditional way, by boiling certain plant roots until they gain a resin-like consistency, or grinding small chunks of ocher into a pliable paste. But they use an electric kiln and modern paintbrushes, instead of the old yucca-tipped ones favored by their forebears.

"I hate the taste of yucca," Nahohai says. "We learned everything about making pottery from our mother. For a long time before her, there were hardly any Zuni potters. That tradition died out with the arrival of metal pans. And then there was just too much Tupperware, so nobody made pottery."

Nahohai's mother, Josephine, who died last year, and other Zuni women revived the craft. In the process, they created one of Zuni's more important cottage industries. (Nahohai's pottery, which incorporates elements of traditional Zuni symbolism, is displayed at the National Museum of the American Indian.) The tribal council estimates that about 80 percent of all Zuni families earn at least part of their income through their arts, giving the pueblo something of the feel of an artists' colony. Inside every home, it seems, someone is bent over a workbench creating inlaid jewelry, carving an animal fetish (renderings of various animals said to possess their powers and spirit, much favored by collectors), sculpting a kachina doll (representations of spiritual beings) or making pottery. Most picked up their skill by watching their parents.

"My folks would let me help with the polishing," says Lorandina Sheche as she sits at a grinding wheel in a back bedroom of her family's home sculpting a bear that resembles those the Zuni made in the 19th century. "Then, one day, my dad went to the store for a while, so I took—well, I stole—one of his rocks." Sheche laughs at the memory. "I made a fetish from dad's rock, a big coyote like the ones in the anthropologist's book. My dad called it ‘E.T.' and said no one would buy it. But an Albuquerque Native crafts store did. They paid me $45 for it."

From under her workbench, Sheche pulls out a copy of Frank Hamilton Cushing's monograph, Zuñi Fetishes (1883). I'm surprised, since Cushing, a member of a Smithsonian Institution expedition that came to study the tribe in 1879, is held in low regard by many Zuni. Just 22 at the time, Cushing was disappointed when the expedition chose not to move into the pueblo, so, the story goes, he plunked his bedroll down in the tribal governor's house. "How long will it be before you go back to Washington?" the governor is said to have asked him. Cushing stayed four-and-a-half years, learning the Zuni language and their sacred ceremonies.

Among anthropologists, Cushing is regarded as a pioneering figure, one of the first professional ethnologists, and the original "participant observer." But to the Zuni, he is another in a long line of white betrayers. Most damaging in Zuni eyes, Cushing wrote in great detail about their religion and its sacred ceremonies, violating their trust in sharing secret knowledge.

"Yes, Cushing was that white man who was adopted by the tribe and became a Bow Priest," says Sheche. "And he learned many Zuni things and believed it all—but then he went home and published all our knowledge. My grandpa used to say that Cushing was a good guy and a crook."

Sheche laughs merrily, apparently unconcerned that she's drawing on such a controversial work to carve her own authentic Zuni fetishes. For Sheche, what matters is that selling fetishes—together with her husband's finely carved kachinas as well as some baby-sitting work—enables her to live at Zuni.

By the time Cushing invited himself into the pueblo, the Zuni had already suffered through years of Spanish and Mexican rule. Under the Spanish, the Catholic Church had ordered them to cease their religious practices altogether. They'd managed to protect their beliefs in part by pretending the prayer songs they sang in their cornfields were simply planting tunes and in part by outright rebellion. They resisted the inquiries of other anthropologists—and from melika in general—by adopting an icy, slightly hostile stance toward overly curious outsiders. Although I was invited to several Zuni ceremonies and dances, and was warmly greeted, I was also warned not to write about them. "This is our religion."

"People outside have the idea that knowledge should be shared," said Jim Enote, the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. "That's what universities are built around. But at Zuni we don't think that way. Some knowledge should be protected and not shared. There are things in Zuni you can know, and things you can't. And there are certain people who deserve to be the keepers of that knowledge. It's a privilege, and the rest of us respect them for that."

Those who follow the Zuni faith greet the morning sun with a sprinkling of sacred cornmeal and mark the yearly calendar with rituals and dances, all designed to keep not only Zuni but the world at large in balance and at peace. Thus "living at Zuni" means far more than simply being able to pass down artistic traditions or eat Native foods with Zuni salt. For the Nahohais and Sheches, staying at Zuni is almost a sacred obligation. Those who assume a religious position—among the Zuni devout that translates to at least one man in every family—do so for life, and they must be present for every ceremony.

"There's one key to understanding Zuni," says Edward Wemytewa, a former tribal councilman in his early 50s, who takes me on a quick tour of Halona, where the last of the pueblo's fabled multistory buildings still stand around a ceremonial plaza. "And it's that the dances that take place here in the plaza are the heart of who we are. All the movement and colors, the singing and the sounds of the bells and the drums echoing off the walls—all this touches your spirit. From the day you are born as a Zuni until the day you leave this world, this is within you."

Although some Zuni have converted to Catholic and Protestant faiths—including Mormonism—the Zuni religion remains so dominant in the pueblo that several members of the tribe told me that despite having elected officials, they feel they live in a theocracy controlled by priests. Tribe members who violate taboos—such as the publisher of the now-defunct Zuni Post who sometimes touched on religious matters—can expect a visit from a priest or to be summoned before the tribal council for questioning. Even speaking the word "drought" is thought to be dangerous because it might lead to one. "That's just the way it is," one Zuni told me.

A few miles beyond the central pueblo of Halona, Edison Vicenti and his wife, Jennie, have built a Spanish-style stucco home. For 30 years, Vicenti designed semiconductor chips for IBM in Tucson, while his wife worked as a nurse. When they retired in 1996, they moved back to Zuni. Today, the former computer engineer serves his tribe as head kachina priest, overseeing prayer meetings, certain initiation ceremonies and dances. (With his wife, he also makes the petit point turquoise-and-silver jewelry for which the Zuni are known.)

"I don't have any trouble flip-flopping between the two worlds," says Vicenti. "There was a time when I was more interested in science, but it was always a foregone conclusion that I'd be back. My family is in the deer clan, which is a small clan, and the duties of the head kachina priest are part of our clan's responsibilities. It's my turn to handle those responsibilities now."

One important responsibility is teaching Zuni ceremonial prayers to the youths initiated into his religious society. With other tribal leaders, Vicenti worries that Zuni is a vanishing language, like more than 80 percent of the remaining 175 Native American languages. Some scholars estimate that unless something is done, these threatened languages will be gone within the next 40 years. "If we lose our language, we lose the base of our religion and culture," Vicenti says. "And if we lose our religion, we lose what binds us together as Zuni. It is like the roots of a tree if the tree is uprooted or the roots contaminated, then it dies. It is the same with us." Vicenti shakes his head. "And we can't let that happen."

To counter the English language heard in every home on radio and television (and in movies and in daily conversation), elderly Zuni join with Zuni teachers at the Head Start program at the elementary school to encourage children to speak the Zuni language. There are immersion Zuni language programs in the higher classes as well, and programs conducted in Zuni at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. And there is KSHI, the Zuni radio station. "Kesh shi. Lukkya shamle don a:wan hon dena: a:lashinna dap kya: kol dena: denabekkowa ik'osh na:wa," intones Duane Chimoni, KSHI's general manager and part-time disc jockey. "Hello. On this morning's program we're going to hear some songs that used to be played in the past."

The songs, however, aren't Zuni songs they're Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and The Who's "My Generation." "We make our announcements in both English and Zuni," says Chimoni. "If we only do Zuni, then we get lots of calls, people saying ‘uh, sorry, my Zuni isn't that good, could you repeat that part about. ' But I like to think it helps, hearing us speak Zuni."

About three miles from Halona, close to the base of the sacred mesa Dowa Yalanne, to which the Zuni have fled in times of danger, a group of middle school children are learning to make traditional Zuni walled gardens, which are divided into sunken depressions, like a waffle iron. It's a way of Zuni farming not often seen now. In the early 20th century, waffle gardens edged Halona, surrounding the pueblo with low adobe walls and yielding a bounty of vegetables and fruit. But the Zuni River flowed freely then it does not today, largely because of dams and droughts. The pueblo has few gardens there's simply not enough water. At Dowa Yalanne, however, the children haul water taken from a spring 12 miles away, making it possible for Jim Enote to teach them this kind of gardening. The children pour buckets of water onto their patches of earth, stirring up the mud and patting it into low walls. "Most of the time, we definitely don't get to play in the mud like this," says 12-year-old Rodney Soseeah, both hands coated with the wet, black earth. "So I like farming, and growing some stuff."

"I'm thinking of planting peppers," says Mary Quam, 15. "Then me and my mom can make salsa."

"We'll also be planting corn," says Odell Jaramillo, a teacher and adviser to this program. "For the Zuni, corn is our life, our protector. It's at the center of our religion and ceremonies." Every ceremony requires a sprinkling of white cornmeal.

Every young person i met hopes to live at the pueblo as an adult. But that means finding a job, which is not easily done. The Zuni schools, including a branch of the University of New Mexico, and a hospital offer employment possibilities. But there are very few businesses, aside from the Indian craft trading posts, a few gas stations and small convenience stores. There are no fast-food joints, no Burger Kings or McDonald's, no hotels.

"You really have to wonder why that is," says Darlynn Panteah, the CEO of one of the most surprising and successful of Zuni businesses, Zuni Technologies, the sole high-tech company in town. "I mean, the same three stores that I grew up with are still the only stores here at Zuni󈟮 years of the same stores! We all have to go to Gallup to do our shopping."

Panteah blames the lack of local enterprises on tribal policies that have tied up much of the land on the main highway, where hotels and restaurants might prosper. She also laments the tribe's reluctance to bring in outsiders and their businesses. (The tribe is debating whether to build hotels and casinos in their community.) "We lose so many of our young people to the outside. Yet we depend on them they're the ones who must carry on our religion. So, it's up to us, the older generation, to make good jobs for them at Zuni."

Panteah leads the way from the parking lot outside Zuni Technologies, which operates out of a low-slung, white warehouse. Inside, 62 Zuni men and women sit in front of computers, typing and clicking as they scan stacks of military manuals, converting the heavy, printed texts into digitized forms for the Air Force, Marines and Navy. The business, started with assistance from tribal and government funds and later the Intertribal Information Technology Company, a consortium of tribes that promotes high-tech businesses on Indian reservations, is now three years old, and offering dream jobs to the mostly young people who work here.

"I honestly never thought there'd be a job here at Zuni in my field, management information systems," says Vinton Hooee, 25, and a recent graduate of the University of New Mexico. "It's given me ideas about starting my own business, like Darlynn, to help keep our young people here. It's very hard to be part of Zuni when you're living in Albuquerque. There's a ceremony here every month, and you can't really take part if you're here only on weekends. All of us young people, we're struggling to get the balance right."

Wilton Niiha, a carpenter and kachina leader, drives with me down a sandy road toward the most dominant feature on the Zuni landscape—the cream-and-rose-striped mesa, Dowa Yalanne—until we see two rocky, tower-like formations split away from the main mesa. "Those rocks are the little boy and girl who saved the people who fled long ago to the top of Dowa Yalanne during the flood," says Niiha. According to legend, "the water was rushing up to the top of the mesa, so the children of the head priest asked if they could place their prayer sticks in the water." The priest granted their request, and the children stepped into the water with the prayer sticks on top of their heads. Instantly, the floodwaters began to recede. "With that sacrifice, the boy and girl saved Zuni," Niiha says. "They became part of the mountain."

The late afternoon sun reached the two stone figures, turning them a rosy golden hue. It was easy to imagine them as children holding hands as they waded into the water and to their deaths, and asking as all Zuni do for blessings, for their people and their land and the world.

That, after all, is the Zuni way.

Virginia Morell is the author of Ancestral Passions and Blue Nile. Photographer Scott S. Warren's work has also appeared in National Geographic, Outside and Newsweek.

Watch the video: Deer Antler and Crown (May 2022).


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