Articles

A TREE FROG EFFIGY BOTTLE

There are some 550 members of the tree frog family, Hylidae, worldwide, of which about 60 live in the USA and mainly in the warmer southern portions of the country.  These are small arboreal amphibians normally being one and a half to three inches in overall length and who often live near ponds, lakes, creeks and rivers.  As their name suggests, they do climb trees with their strong legs and webbed suction cup feet but often hide out in vegetation closer to the ground and water, especially during daylight hours.  This is where their primary food sources of small insects and worms are more common and they are voracious predators of these potential meals during the night. And they are fairly plentiful even though many contemporary people have never seen any of them since these frogs are mostly nocturnal.   They can be found hanging on house walls at night while hunting for food near lighted porch lamps that draw in insects.  The prehistoric natives living near the Mississippi River made many pottery effigies of frogs but they were usually realistic and stylistic copies of bullfrogs.  In fact, the bullfrog effigy vessels are second only to fish effigies in quantities produced and are believed to have been ceremonially associated with spring/summer and rain.  But with the probably large number of tree frogs that would have been living near the “Big Muddy”, the Indians certainly should have produced many effigies of this climbing animal.  Apparently, though, they made very few – one of which is this rare tree frog effigy bottle.

The vessels called waterbottles were given that name because it was believed they were used to hold water.  There is speculation today, however, that the animal and human effigy forms of bottles were actually used to hold ceremonial liquids including the emetic beverage called “black drink”.  It was made from the yaupon holly and was used to purify the imbiber’s system during the cleansing festivities.   Effigy bottles, in general, were most likely used in various ceremonies since making a complicated vessel in any human/animal style, just to hold water, would have been overkill on the potter’s workload.

 This tree frog effigy vessel was found in Mississippi County, Arkansas.  It measures six and three-eighths inches high by five and five-eighths inches in diameter and is made of well-polished and fire cloud marked Bell Plain greyware.  It is a highly stylized replica of possibly a green tree frog, Hyla cinerea, with its atypical pointed head, the usual large protruding eyes and a ridged olfactory organ centered in the front of the face.  Normally frog eyes are large and bulging which gives them a wide field of view and compensates for the creature’s inability to turn its head.  The bottle orifice, just below the face and eyes, is reminiscent of the open mouth of a frog.  The vessel does not, though, have the usual frog body and legs since the unadorned and rounded bottle serves as the animal’s torso representation.  It was pictured in volume XIX (1985) issue of PREHISTORIC ARTIFACTS OF NORTH AMERICA while in the collection of Ben Thompson and would have been made in the AD 1400-1700 time period during the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.  While researching this article, the writer could find no references to any other North American tree frog effigy vessels in existence but it seems unlikely that this is the only one since tree frogs are common today and probably would have been common a few hundred years ago.  Whether it is the one and only or if many others exist, the writer is simply happy to be able to enjoy and study this very rare tree frog effigy bottle.

 

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