Articles

A RARE NORTH CAROLINA LIZARD EFFIGY

 

The reptilians called lizards and the similar amphibians named salamanders, live throughout most of the Southeast and have been on our earth for over two hundred million years.  Both the little four legged reptiles and amphibians will dart away at seemingly lightning speed when disturbed and are adept at hiding from other animals and birds.  Many people, today, are probably not even aware of these tiny critters because of their reluctance to be seen.  The prehistoric human residents in the region surely knew of lizards and salamanders because they lived up close with nature and its inhabitants, both large and small.  We know that the Amerinds made stylistic and realistic images of many members of the animal kingdom.  And apparently at least one Tar Heel state depiction of a tiny reptilian with this rare North Carolina lizard effigy.

Small stone effigies of lizards have been found in the eastern half of our country, though infrequently and seemingly most of them have been discovered in the modern mid-western states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.  These images are normally three to four inches in length and one to two inches wide.  They have distinct heads that can be square, triangular or oval in shape followed by a constricted neck area and then a wider and thicker body that ends in a long and tapered tail.  A very few of these effigies have four short leg appendages and even fewer have clearly carved eyes and mouths.  Some lizard effigies have one or two grooves encircling the body perhaps for attachment to a thong so as to hang around a person’s neck.   The preponderance of lizard/salamander effigies seems to have been made of soft slate or limestone, if these stones can actually be considered soft.  A very few, though, were made of harder minerals such as chert or quartz or granite.  Contemporary guesses as to the age of these strange artifacts are that they were made during the Middle Archaic Period or 5,000 to 2,500 BC.  Some collectors believe these rare relics are predecessors to the more familiar (but still rare) Late Archaic/Early Woodland Period birdstones.  And one should keep in mind that like all very rare Indian artifacts, the lizard effigies, especially the ones with legs, have been considerably faked in modern times.

 

These little stone effigies have been called “lizards” for many years even though most do not appear to be realistic imitations of reptiles or amphibians.  If the natives were indeed attempting to make copies of lizards or salamanders, why were the effigies so abstract?  The few authentic ancient ones in existence seem to be made with care but they certainly do not look much like the living animals. Perhaps they were stylistic representations to be talismans for ceremonial/supernatural purposes.  Some collectors believe the lizard effigies were spear thrower counterweights though that seems unlikely because they ae so small and light in weight.  Other persons believe the little critters were made to be handle attachments on spear throwers with the theory being that the native using the weapon could have more easily gripped the tool handle.  Others have theorized the relics are snake effigies with the bulging middle section indicating the serpent had recently swallowed a meal.  This, of course, would not account for the very few effigies with legs.  In this writer’s opinion, these little artifacts are indeed lizard effigies for one important reason – Speed!  The actual living diminutive lizards are extremely quick and they are able to hide themselves exceedingly well.  I can remember attempting to catch them, when I was a child, with little success.  The prehistoric Indians could have made and used the stone effigies as amulets in an attempt to bring the lizard’s speed and deceptiveness to the hunter/warrior.  Of course, that is just my theory – not actual proof.

 

This NC lizard effigy is 2 7/8” long by 7/8 inch wide by 5/8 inch thick in the body.  It is very well made and highly polished of fine grain grey mica-schist which is a metaphoric slate. It was found in mountainous McDowell County, NC and was on display for many years in the Grant’s Indian Museum in Old Fort, NC until acquired by me from the proprietor, Woody Grant.  It has the tapered tail, wide and thick body and triangular head all of which are typical morphological traits of the artifact type and it obviously has no legs.  The neck area is clearly grooved for supposed suspension around the owners neck or for attachment to clothing or as a tool handle.  It should be noted again the extreme rarity of the lizard/amphibian artifact type.  This is the only example that the writer has knowledge of that was found in North Carolina but there could very well be more in collections with the finders/owners being unaware of just what they have.  I have wondered many times about the actual meaning of this lizard effigy to its original ancient owner and since I may never know the exact purpose, my speculations will probably always exist.  But those internal questions will not keep me from enjoying the exceptional uniqueness, beauty and workmanship of this rare North Carolina lizard effigy.

 

REFEREENCES:

Bierer, Bert W.                                                                                               1977

    INDIANS IN THE SOUTHEAST

Fundaburk, Emma L. & Mary D. Foreman                                                     1957

    SUN CIRCLES AND HUMAN HANDS

Griffin, James B., Editor                                                                                  1952

    ARCHAEOLOGY OF EASTERN UNITED STATES

Hothem, Lar                                                                                                    1990

    NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN ORNAMENTAL & CEREMONIAL ARTIFACTS

Jacquot, Rick                                                                                                   2005

    ROCK, GEM AND MINERAL COLLECTING SITES IN WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA

Martof, Bernard S, Julian R. Harrison & William Palmer                              1989

   AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES OF THE CAROLINAS AND VIRGINIA

Neuendorf, Klaus E.  & James P. Mehl                                                           2005

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