Articles

FROG EFFIGY VESSELS

 

When you think about them, the realization is that the amphibians called frogs are rather strange creatures.  Many begin life as underwater eggs which develop into small swimming tadpoles with gills.  They then go through another development stage whereupon they finally emerge as land dwelling frogs and toads with lungs.  These scales-less vertebrates, which possibly were the first tetrapods to actually walk on land more than 350 million years ago, are poikilothermic.   That is only a scientific word describing cold-blooded animals which means the critters vary their body temperature depending on their given environment at any one time.  Along the lower Mississippi River there are about thirty known species of frogs and toads.  A few hundred years ago, the natives living near the various streams flowing into the big river certainly encountered these amphibians and most likely revered them.  This statement is based on the large quantity of ceramic replications they made in the form of frog effigy vessels.

 

Wood frog;  southern leopard frog;  pickerel frog;  cricket frog;  green frog;  tree frog;  spadefoot;  common toad; bull frog – these are but a few of the amphibian varieties that can be found in the lower Mississippi River valley.  During the period of time called the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex or AD 1000-1700, the early Americans doubtlessly utilized the various frogs as food as well as in ceremonialism.  These natives probably understood only two seasons – winter and summer.  Winter was a time for hunting and war and moving to new village locations.   Summer was the time for fishing and revitalization, especially in the connection to the growing of the “three sisters” – corn, beans and squash.  Frogs, in the ceremonial/religious beliefs of these people, were harbingers of rain and summer time renewal and would have possibly been venerated as disciples of the gods who controlled the growing season.  Even though frogs lived part of their lives in the evil watery “Below World” environment, they were primarily considered to be a part of the same living space as humans – “This World”.  As such frogs would have been accepted on the same level as other land dwelling animals such as deer and bear and rabbits and, of course, people.

 

The natives, who lived some three to five hundred years ago in the Mississippi River Valley, made pottery effigies of many living organisms.  Fish effigies were probably the most numerous since they designated a plentiful and easily captured protein supplement.  Next, in importance and quantity, came the frog models of which were many made in the form of jars with fewer being bowls and bottles.  They were normally made of well burnished grey Bell Plain ceramics but some few were also slip coated in red or red and white thinned clay paint.  A very few were made as miniatures but the majority of these ceramic amphibian replications seem to have been made in the four to six inches long and three to four inches tall sizes.  Frog effigy pottery was normally made in quite realistic terms with four legs and feet (tetrapodal), a small tail and a head with nose, mouth, eyes and often tympanums (ear drums) alongside the head.  Many, if not most, of these were probably made to simulate the largest of the frog family – the American bullfrogs which are normally, in life sizes, from about four inches to almost eight inches in length and are usually green to brown in coloration.  They live, today, near ponds, lakes, creeks and rivers where they feed on insects, crayfish and minnows and would have also populated those locales during prehistoric times.  Even though they live near water, many bullfrogs seem to prefer being terrestrial, especially by living and hiding in grasses and small shrubs immediately adjacent to lakes and rivers.

 

All this begs for answers to some questions.  Did the ancients consider frogs to actually be messengers from the gods and thus to be revered and glorified? Or were the natives simply happy that their deities sent them a delicious food source, even if the nourishment was somewhat difficult to catch?  Modern humans capture these bull frogs so as to feast on their large rear legs – and the ancients probably did likewise.  And maybe after their frog leg meals, they made up some ceramic vessels to thank their gods for that food – ceramic vessels in the form of frog effigy vessels.

 

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