Articles

A RARE AND BEAUTIFUL CAMEO BOTTLE 

As the Mississippian Period began around AD 1200 and then fully evolved by 1750, the American Indians, living at the later years,  expanded their religous beliefs about the world surrounding them.  Their spiritual  opinions would have possibly been centered within the confines of their daily lives - those being the "Upper World", "This World" and the "Lower World" with these three domains being formed by the almighty provider of life - the Sun.  The Upper World was the region occupied by the gods and only visited by birds who could convey wishes of the people to their immortals. This World was actually the earth where the trees and grasses grew and where the the native people and most animals lived.  The Lower World was the watery realm of fish, frogs and turtles and the water monstors and evil spirts that the people wanted to avoid.  And representing the Sun for the earth bound people were concentric bands that are today called the Circles Of Life.  And the Mississippian Period natives used these circles in some of their daily making and using stone tools and pottery.  Today, we designate these various stone implements and pottery crocks as works of art.  But to the natives, the objects were hand made stone implements and ceramic vessels that were very helpful in their daily lives in the ancient wilderness.  At some point in time, maybe four hundred or so years ago, a native potter made a very rare vessel dedicated to the Circles of Life - this cameo waterbottle.

This clay container is engraved with the circles of life representations on three sides of it's body.  Along with religous depictions of the Upper World, This World and the Lower World, these circles also represent the cosmological  sun symbols.  Each of the circles is engraved within narrow lines so as to differentiate them from the vessel body earthen color which was a beige or buff.  It is believed, today, that the entire surface of the vessel would have  been coated with a red dye or pigment after the line engravings.  Upon drying, the red color would have been scraped away inside the incised lines so the original buff color was again visible in relief - thus forming a cameo. Today we symbolically call this type of pottery coloration as Red on Buff.  The visual tinting of the circles is a graphic symbol of the power of the Circles of Life - thus bringing the maker and/or the ancient owner of the vessel closer to their gods.

This bottle is ten inches tall overall and  the vessel body form is also ten inches  in diameter and there may or may no be some religious symbolism with that sizing. The ceramic body is rather thin which makes the pot less heavy than most vessels of its size.  It was found in Cross County, Arkansas back in the 1960's, not far from the Mississippi River.  It is an area where many Indian pottery vessels have been discovered over the last hundred or so years.  This is such a rare and was possibly sacred vessel to the potter, that it stands out today, as a true work of art and is certainly a rare and beautiful cameo bottle.

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Galloway, Patricia, Editor                                                                                1989

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Power, Susan C.                                                                                                 2004

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Westbrook, Kent C.                                                                                          1982

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