Animal Masks (video)

Animal Masks

In some Late Archaic sites in Ohio and Ontario, the upper jaws and facial portions of bear and wolf skulls have been found. Indians had cut these parts from animal skulls, smoothed the bone, and drilled small holes in several places near the edges. The holes suggest that the objects had been tied to something; perhaps the Indians wore them over their faces as masks.

To understand the purpose of such items, archaeologists often turn to eyewitness accounts of Indian life recorded by settlers, soldiers, missionaries, and others beginning in the late 1600s. These accounts describe objects and the ways they were used, as well as the Indians' feelings and beliefs about them. In the 1840s, American artist George Catlin pictured a shaman, or medicine man, of the Blackfoot tribe he had observed on the Great Plains.

The Blackfoot, like many societies throughout the world, believed that people became ill because they offended the spirits. To cure an illness, a shaman had to contact the spirit world. Often, the shaman, while chanting his prayers, also used effective herbal medicines. According to Catlin, the Blackfoot shaman wore a bear skin complete with the skin of the bear's head. Perhaps the shaman wore the skin because he felt that the beast's spirit helped him do his healing.

Image Number: I-HI-02-01 BlackfootMedicineman