European Metals in Native Hands

They have begun to reexamine the impact of contact on native peoples not in terms of “acculturation,” wherein material culture change is considered to be a direct and simplistic “record of culture change,” but as a complex suite of ...

European Metals in Native Hands

The first detailed analysis of Native metalworking in the Protohistoric/Contact Period. From the time of their earliest encounters with European explorers and missionaries, Native peoples of eastern North America acquired metal trinkets and utilitarian items and traded them to other aboriginal communities. As Native consumption of European products increased, their material culture repertoires shifted from ones made up exclusively of items produced from their own craft industries to ones substantially reconstituted by active appropriation, manipulation, and use of foreign goods. These material transformations took place during the same time that escalating historical, political, economic, and demographic influences (such as epidemics, new types of living arrangements, intergroup hostilities, new political alliances, missionization and conversion, changes in subsistence modes, etc.) disrupted Native systems. Ehrhardt's research addresses the early technological responses of one particular group, the Late Protohistoric Illinois Indians, to the availability of European-introduced metal objects. To do so, she applied a complementary suite of archaeometric methods to a sample of 806 copper-based metal artifacts excavated from securely dated domestic contexts at the Illiniwek Village Historic Site in Clark County, Missouri. Ehrhardt's scientific findings are integrated with observations from historical, archaeological, and archival research to place metal use by this group in a broad social context and to critique the acculturation perspective at other Contact Period sites. In revealing actual Native practice, from material selection and procurement to ultimate discard, the author challenges technocentric explanations for Native material and cultural change at contact.

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