Friday, May 9, 2014

E is for Effigy

 You have seen the word effigy in several of our blogs.  We most often use it when referring to our departmental logo the Washington Boro Face effigy.
Washington Boro Effigy

This triangular face is depicted both with and without a body on the rims of ceramic vessels from the Washington Boro Village (1600-1625); and is the face that greets you upon entering the Hall of Anthropology & Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.  Effigy is defined by the Word History Dictionary as:

A.D. 1539, from L. effigies "copy or imitation of something,
likeness," related to effingere "mold, fashion, portray,"

As such, an effigy can take on limitless forms and can be fashioned out of a variety of materials.  In the northeast, the most common materials are stone, ceramic, shell and bone; and the artifacts most typically adorned with effigies in this area are charms or beads,


and pipes.

The latter will be the focus of this blog.

Most attempts to categorize and understand the effigy pipes of the Northeast begin by dividing them into one of three categories.  The first is zoomorphic or animal effigies which can be subdivided into bird, reptile, mammal, and although rare, the rodent class (Nobel 1979).  Of these, the bird group seems to dominate the numbers, “about half of the faunal representations on Ontario Iroquoian pipes” (Mathews 1981).  Only about half of those (less than 50%) were able to be identified further, most of which were owls. Similarly, 50% of the effigies on Susquehannock pipes are in the form of birds, “twice as frequent as mammals and reptiles” (Kinsey 1989).   The difference is that the Susquehannock bird pipes are dominated by water birds (51%) vs. raptors (25%) (Kinsey 1989).

Reptiles can be difficult to identify as they are “dizzyingly enigmatic” (Mathews 1981), it appears that lizards/salamanders, coiled snakes and turtles are represented.   Snakes are usually depicted coiled around the pipe bowl.  Some examples continue to coil down the stem of the pipe and yet others portray a head either above the rim head raised toward the smoker or in relief.  Turtle effigies on pipes are rare, as are fish which are very rarely represented.  Reptiles appear more frequently depicted in Susquehannock effigies (15%) as opposed to only (4%) among the Seneca examples studied by Kinsey (1989).

That brings us to mammals, which are a bit puzzling.  It seems that only two mammals are represented in the effigies of Ontario and New York, the bear and the wolf/canine/fox (Mathews 1981).   According to Noble (1979) and Mathew (1981), it is difficult to differentiate between the wolf/canine/fox due the similar shape of the ears and snout.   Noble (1979) also suggests a fourth class for the zoomorphic category as the rodent class.  The rodent class is represented by a single beaver pipe from southern Ontario (Noble 1979 & Laidlaw 1913).  One could just as easily eliminate the rodent class and include beaver with the other two mammals.  It is interesting that so few mammals are represented and it makes one wonder why there are no deer (until the later rouletting designs), squirrel, raccoons, chipmunks, rabbits or mice.  Approximately a quarter of the Susquehannock pipes represent mammals and unlike the northern counterparts, seem to include some short snouted mammals probably cougar/panther and perhaps even otters and martins (Kinsey 1989).  Interestingly, it is also pointed out by Kinsey (1989) that unlike other cultures that choose economically important animals as zoomorphic representations, this was not the case with the Susquehannock.  “Deer and elk accounted for 73% of the meat consumed by the Susquehannocks but these animals are never represented in Susquehannock and Seneca art!” (Kinsey 1989:84).    

The second category are the human effigy pipes which are the most variable in form.  They can be subdivided any number of ways but perhaps the most useful place to start would be heads only (the more common focus) or heads and bodies (much less frequent) as suggested by Nobel (1979).  Some have suggested a divergent chronology between animal effigies and human effigies.  Suggesting that the human effigies seem to exhibit evolving attributes “that changed with the historical situation and its effects, such as contact and disease”; while the zoomorphic effigies seem to change very little over time, perhaps suggestive of a guardian spirit which remained constant (Mathews 1980).  Comparatively, the Susquehannock and Seneca have equal numbers of human effigies (Kinsey 1989). 
Wonderley (2005) has subdivided the human effigies into four motifs.  These include the “Roebuck type, which features a realistically modeled human face”.

The Figure-in-Arch type which has many possible interpretations including “the niche of a saint, a boat, the Sky Dome” or could represent a birth scene, both literally as suggested by Hosbach (1992) or “possibly connected to the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy” (Wonderley 2005), this idea will be discussed later. 

The Figure-in-Crescent type depicts a “humanlike face within a crescent … not so much on the flat surface enclosed by the crescent but, rather, on the edge of the plane where the crescent is open” (Wonderley 2005)

And the Dougherty type which seems to be a contemporary of the Figure-in-Arch Type and according to Wonderley (2005:221) incorporates the following criteria (though not all need to be present):

This “ordered sequence of imagery” (Wonderley 2005:221) “[calls] to mind the developmental, linear syntax necessary to [a] narrative.  Because the incidents of a story are temporally related – one preceding and being the precondition of the next – a tale [story] has to be presented in a certain sequence, not unlike this composition.  It would not be surprising if this pipe imagery had a narrative referent, perhaps relating to a story performed, told, or contemplated.”  We will come back to some of Wonderley’s interpretations later. 

The last category suggested by Nobel (1979) is the Duel effigy encompassing both zoomorphic and human forms.  This category has also been referred to as “nonnaturlaistic representations” (Mathews 1981) and includes imagery of creatures not found in nature.

So, what does it all mean???  There have been many theories presented about the significance of similar effigies exhibited on pipes, combs, charms and some ceramics.  They range from aesthetic “art for art’s sake”, to ceremonially significant, to representative of clans, to mnemonic devices for long orations. 

Wonderley (2005) presents an interesting theory linking Iroquois cosmology and legends of creation to some of the composite pipes described earlier.  For example, prior to about 1800 the Iroquois did not believe in humans being created by a divine creator but that that they came up out of the ground.  Some groups, the Oneidas for instance could show you the hollow from which their ancestors emerged.  Could this be what is represented in the Figure-in-Arch and Figure-in-Crescent motifs?  Perhaps even the Dougherty pipe is related to this theme of emergence. 

According to the archaeological evidence of the region the proliferation of pipes occurs, “[between] the late prehistoric and the early protohistoric [periods, 1450-1500]” (Nobel 1979 & Mathews 1980).  Funk and Kuhn (2003) suggest the Iroquois Confederacy grew out of an earlier alliance among the Mohawk, Oneida and Onondaga nations.  Many scholars and ethnographic accounts agree that this budding alliance or “pre-league confederacy” began “in the late 1400’s and mid 1500’s” (Wonderley 2005) and eventually grew into the Iroquois Confederacy of Six Nations.  It is Hosbach (1992) and Wonderley (2005) that suggest a correlation between this evidence and the ideas of birth and emergence to the iconography of some of the effigies.  Could these pipes be evidence of growing alliances, political or economic, throughout the Mid-Atlantic region?

It should be noted that most of this discussion has focused on effigy pipes recovered from sites in southern Ontario and upper New York State.  The images (unless otherwise noted) are from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania and were primarily recovered from Susquehannock sites. 


Funk, Robert E., and Robert D. Kuhn
2003     Three Sixteenth-Century Mohawk Iroquois Village Sites.
New York State Museum Bulletin 503. New York State Department of Education, Albany

Hosbach, Richard.
1992     A Gyneco-Android Subset of Native Iroquoian El Ranch Pipes: A New Pipe Designation with the 
             Philosophical Concept of Sexual Duality as Its Basic Motif.
             Proceedings of the 1989 Smoking Pipe Conference Rochester Museum & Science Center
             Research Records 22 

Kinsey, Fred W., and Roger W. Moeller
1989       New Approaches to Other Pasts.
               Archaeological Services, Bethlehem, Connecticut  

Laidlaw, George E.
1913      Ontario Effigy Pipes in Stone. Annual Archaeological Report Ontario 1913:37-67

Mathews, Zena Pearlstone
1980       Of Man and Beast: the Chronology of Effigy Pipes among Ontario Iroquoians.
               Ethnohistory 27 (4):295-307
1981       The Identification of Animals on Ontario Iroquoian Pipes.
               Canadian Journal of Archaeology 5:31-48

Nobel, William C.
1979       Ontario Iroquois Effigy Pipes. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 3:69-90

Wonderley, Anthony
2005     Effigy Pipes, Diplomacy, and Myth: Exploring Interaction between
St. Lawrence Iroquoians and Eastern Iroquois in New York State.

American Antiquity 70(2):211-240

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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