Articles

AN OWL EFFIGY BOTTLE        

 

There are over two hundred species of owls living throughout the earth’s forested regions and they pretty much rule the nocturnal world of these timberlands.  Many of these feathered critters actually live near our homes but since they are basically active only during the night time, we simply do not know they are our neighbors.  An ancient native pottery artisan certainly knew of them and made this remarkable owl effigy bottle. 

There is quite a variety of these nocturnal hunting avian creatures in the Americas with the one known as the Great Horned Owl certainly being among the most common in the continental United States and Canada.  They are one of the largest members of the Strigiformes order and have been given the unique name Horned Owl because of the tufts of feathers called plumicorns or cat-like ears on the outside top of their heads.  These groupings of small feathers are not ears, though, and there is no actual scientific explanation for their usage other than perhaps being a type of camouflage to break up the shape and location of birds head.  Many members of the owl family, including the Great Horned, have round feathered facial disks around the eyes that are used to accurately direct noises from potential prey into the birds asymmetrical ear cavities. They also have feathered legs and soft body and wings plumage for noiseless hunting flights.  Most owls are feeders during the night and they will capture many other birds and small animals in their strong claws while we humans are sleeping.  They commonly dine on rabbits, opossums, raccoons, mice, snakes and even other raptors.  They are also one of the few carnivores that will eat skunks on a regular basis.

 

Indian made owl effigy vessels are known to exist but are certainly not common. They seem to have been mostly made in the lower Mississippi River Valley during the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex and usually in the AD 1500-1700 time period.  They were normally constructed in the hooded bottle form in either Bell Plain or Neeley’s Ferry grey ceramics but occasionally were coated with red or red and white paint slip.  Examples, though, have also been found of owl heads being attached as rim effigies onto bowls and all owl vessel types were infrequently engraved or incised.  The facial features on these hooded bottles are quite representative of the owl individuals with the large eyes encircled by round facial disks and enlarged raptors beak.   A considerable number have the feather ear type tufts on the head and a very few rest on tripod feet and a tail.  Owl effigy vessels are normally extremely well made which would make one speculate that they had some religious/ceremonial significance to the natives.

 

This hooded owl effigy bottle was found in Pemiscot County, Arkansas and is 7 1/4 inches tall and is made of dark grey well-polished Bell Plain ceramics.  It features the typical Horned Owl type ear tufts, eyes surrounded by the feathered facial rings and a large beak on the front of the head.  The image of the face of the bird appears to be almost human in appearance which would again make one wonder about the ancient spiritual meanings.  Owls were able to fly into the sky also known as “Above World” but rested and slept in trees in “This World”.  That could have meant the ancient people associated these birds with the native’s heavenly divine beings as well as with the human’s own earth bound selves.  This vessel is well made and one would think that the maker was quite skilled at producing pottery and also possibly a great admirer of the night flyers.  That expertise and esteem gave the artisan the desire and ability to produce this unique owl effigy bottle.

 

REFERENCES:

Fitzgerald, Rick                                                                                           1999

    MISSISSIPPIAN POTTERY

Fundaburk, Emma L. & Mary D. Foreman                                          1957

    SUN CIRCLES AND HUMAN HANDS

Galloway, Patricia, Editor                                                                                    1989

    THE SOUTHEASTERN CEREMONIAL C OMPLEX: ARTIFACTS AND ANALYSIS

Hathcock, Roy                                                                                             1976

    ANCIENT INDIAN POTTERY OF THE MISSISSIPPI  RIVER VALLEY

Hathcock, Roy                                                                                             1982

    THE QUAPAW AND THEIR POTTERY

Hudson, Charles                                                                                         1976

    THE SOUTHEASTERN INDIANS

Morse, Dan F. & Phyllis A. Morse                                                          1983

    ARCAHEOLOGY OF THE CENTRAL MISSISSIPPI VALLEY

Phillips, Phillip, James A. Ford & James B. Griffin                              1951

    ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI ALLUVIAL VALLEY

Townsend, Robert F., Editor                                                                   2004

    HERO, HAWK, AND OPEN HAND