Articles

AN EXTRAORDINARY NC RAVEN EFFIGY PIPE

The Europeans knew nothing of tobacco usage until the late fifteenth century when their explorations began in the Western Hemisphere.  But the natives living on the two large land masses and adjacent islands knew of and used the weed.  Both Christopher Columbus, in AD 1492, and Amerigo Vespucci, in AD 1499, wrote about the Indian custom of using the plant.  A few years later in 1514, the Spanish historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes recorded, on the island of Haiti, the following which was later published in LA HISTORIA GENERAL DE LAS INDIAS:  “The caciques, or principal men, have hollow sticks about a span long less than the thickness of the smallest finger.  These tubes have two channels, merging into one.  And these they put into their nostrils and the other end in the smoke of the burning herb …. And they breathe in the smoke, once, twice, thrice, or as often as they can, until they lose their senses, and for a great space they lie stretched out on the ground without intelligence and stupefied as in a dream.  It is this instrument with which they inhale the smoke that the Indians gave the name tobacco and not the herb or the resulting stupor, as some have believed.”  In 1588, the Englishman Thomas Hariot wrote of his 1584 voyage to Roanoke Island, Virginia (now North
Carolina).  “There is an herbe which is sowed a part by it selfe & is called by the inhabitants uppowoc.  In the West Indies it hath diuers names, according to the several places & countries where it growth and is used:  The Spaniards generally call it Tobacco.”  That begs for an answer to the question – Is it the smoking instrument or the plant that should be called tobacco?   Whatever is the actual truth, the Europeans quickly took to the habit of the plant we call tobacco and the whole world , today, uses the nicotine addictive golden leaf in various forms – snuff, chewing tobacco, cigarettes, cigars and pipes.  But five hundred years ago there was only the plant leaves and the native made smoking implements – many in simple forms but others in various stylized human and animal motifs such as this extraordinary NC raven effigy pipe.

The early Europeans came to the lands that would become the Americas looking for gold and silver and found much of that in Mexico and Central/South America.  In what would later be called the USA, these precious metals were not found but the Europeans did discover a commodity that would bring riches to some of them – tobacco.  By the seventeenth century, tobacco was being farmed in the Southeast coastal regions and consumed there as well as being exported to Europe.  The Englishman John Rolfe, in 1612, seems to be the first to decide that the fertile agricultural grounds in eastern Virginia were perfect for growing tobacco.  He and other Europeans living in and around that region did grow more and more of the plant as the years passed and shipped more and more of it to England.  By the end of that century, records show that the Virginia colony alone shipped twenty million pounds of tobacco to the mother country.  That simple addictive weed had become the early colonist’s greatest economic friend.

In 1960 the North Carolina Museum of Art staged an exhibition called “Tobacco and Smoking In Art” which, as the name implies, displayed the plant and how it was used in artful smoking instruments from prehistory into modern times.   There were numerous Indian made pipes on display at the exhibition including this one from the NC hill country.  This pipe, which is pictured in the exhibition catalog, was listed as shown below.

 

            MODIFIED PLTFORM-BIRD EFFIGY PIPE     

            H:        40 mm

            L:         91 mm

            Diameter of Bowl:   20 mm

            Green-gray steatite pipe, carved in a form combining a variant of the platform pipe with        

            profile of a bird effigy.  Carving suggests a metal prototype because of crisp raised and

            rounded edges and raised center rib over the hole in stem.  Depressions suggest that

            stones (or gems) may have been used for the eyes.

            Provenance:  Found in Deep Gap, Watauga County, North Carolina

 

Fifty-plus years have passed since that information was published and while much of what we knew, at that time, about Indian-made pipes, is still accurate, some of the data has definitely been refined and modernized.  It is now believed that there was not a metal prototype used to make this pipe.  A metal pipe template would suggest post-European contact (AD 1500+)
and the pipe will almost certainly predate that time.  Also there have been no European trade pipes discovered that are even vaguely similar to this stylistic smoking device.  And the depressions for the eyes are now construed to have held nothing or possibly freshwater mussel pearls but certainly not gems or other type stones.  The pipe was found or acquired in the 1930’s or 1940’s by the father and son collecting team, the late Drs. George Waynick Sr. and Jr.  It is even possible that the son found the pipe while in college Appalachian State since his late widow did state that he spent a considerable amount of his time, while in college, out looking for Indian artifacts in that mountainous district.  The younger Dr. Waynick passed away in 1995 and his now deceased widow allowed me to acquire his large collection, including this pipe, a few years later.  It was originally found in the Deep Gap community, in eastern Watauga County, NC and this is an area where many prehistoric artifacts have been found.  It is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains and was also the home of the world famous singer, the late Doc Watson.  This pipe is very unusual because of the odd bird head and beak extending forward from the bowl as well as the high quality of workmanship.  Current thoughts about the model for this pipe include that it may simply show a very stylized average bird beak or it may be a somewhat realistic interpretation of the head of a coastal bird – the Brown Pelican.  Some collectors have suggested that it is reminiscent of the Toucan but since that bird is native to tropical America, that theory seems unlikely.  The beak appearance is suggestive of a Sandhill or Whooping Crane and the prehistoric natives in the region certainly knew of this large avian based on ancient discovered Crane bones that were fashioned into needles and beads.  Others believe it is a facsimile of a hawk or eagle or maybe of the now extinct Carolina Parakeet.  And several groups of pre-historic to historic period natives, in the Southeast, had a myth about either a large red-brown moth called “wasulu” or a giant hummingbird that was sent, by the gods, to retrieve tobacco from the evil guardians of the plant.  According to these legends tobacco was thusly saved for use by all humans.  Some, today, do believe that the large beak-like projection on the front of this pipe is the proboscis of this butterfly relative or an overstated and stylistic beak of a hummingbird.  Conceivably it could have been fashioned as any one or none of the above examples.

As it turned out, the answer to this query came simply.  The wife of a collector friend (the wife not being an actual artifact collector) looked at the pipe and instantly stated “it’s a Crow”.  And logically one would conclude she was partly correct – the pipe represents a member of the large billed and very intelligent Corvidae family – but maybe not an American Crow.  A more sizable relative of the crow, the sturdily beaked Common Raven, occupied much of mountainous regions in eastern North America until they were almost completely eradicated in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries by overzealous hunters/farmers.  The American Crow as well as the Common Raven have been on this continent for thousands of years after having evolved in Asia and both certainly would have lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains a few hundred years go.  This steatite pipe was probably made during the South Appalachian Mississippian Period which could have been anytime from AD 1000 to maybe as late as AD 1700.  An educated guess, though, would be that it was made by an artisan of the Dallas Culture between AD 1450 and AD 1650 which was just before the Europeans began to heavily explore the Southeast.  The Dallas Culture natives occupied much of the Appalachians during the AD 1450-1700 time period and the pipe bowl and stem are of the Dallas pipe style plus those natives did make effigy pipes.

American Indian-made bird effigy pipes are rare and of the small number that have been found, most feature a full stylized or realistic bird body and head – not just the beak and eyes as are depicted here.  Just what the Mississippian Period pipe maker was attempting to portray will most likely never be fully known but we certainly know that the craftsman created a beautiful and rare art object.  Maybe it was made as an effigy of the butterfly proboscis or a raptors beak even the bill of a Toucan.  Or maybe the artist had simply smoked too much of a hallucinogenic plant before carving this particular pipe.  This writer, though, does believe the good eye sight and common sense of a lady, who looked at the pipe and saw the head and beak of a Crow or Raven.  But it will still remain such an oddity that questions will continue to enter one’s mind - questions without definite answers.  But that simply makes this one more of life’s many unanswerable queries.  So think and speculate and ruminate and ponder but always keep in mind that this is a totally amazing and certainly one-of-a-kind smoking instrument - An Extraordinary NC Raven Effigy Pipe.

 

REFERENCES:

Byrnes, James B.                                          1960

    TOBACCO AND SMOKING IN ART

Dickens, Roy E.                                             1976

    CHEROKEE PREHSITORY

Dickson, Sarah D.                                         1954

    PANACEA OR PRECIOUS BANE

Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdez, Gonzalo 1535

    LA HISTORIA GENERAL DE LAS INDIAS

Fundaburk, Emma L. & Mary D. Foreman 1957

    SUN CICLES AND HUMAN HANDS

Galloway, Patricia, Editor                           1989

    THE SOUTHEASTERN CEREMONIAL COMPLEX:  ARTIFACTS AND ANALYSIS

Griffin, James B. Editor                               1952

    ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE EASTERN UNITED STATES

Hart, Gordon                                                 1978

    HART’S PREHISTORIC PIPE RACK

Hariot, Thomas                                            1588

    A BRIEFE AND TRUE REPORT OF THE NEW FOUND LAND OF VIRGINIA

Hothem, Lar                                                  1999

    COLLECTOR’S GUIDE TO INDIAN PIPES

McGuire, J. D.                                                            1898

    PIPES AND SMOKING CUSTOMS OF THE AMERICAN ABORIGINES BASED ON MATERIALS

    IN THE U. S. NATIONAL MUSEUM

Linton, Ralph                                                            1924

    USE OF TOBACCO AMONG NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS

Reilly, F. Kent III & James F. Garber                     2007

    ANCIENT OBJECTS AND SACRED REALMS

West, George                                                            1934

    TOBACCCO PIPES AND SMOKING CUSTOMS OF THE AMERICAN INDIANS

Witthoft, John                                                           1946

    “Bird Lore of the Eastern Cherokee”, JOURNAL OF THE WASHINGTON ACADEMY OF

    SCIENCES, Vol. 36, No. 1