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Impearls: HIC 4.12: Utensils of elk horn

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Utensils of elk horn   by A. L. Kroeber

Elk horn was used for the point of the flint flaker, for mesh spacers, and shuttles; sometimes for arrow straighteners, for spoons, and for purses.  The spoon is truly such, not a ladle, with a rather flat, cross-grained bowl  The handle always bears some decoration, and often is worked into fairly elaborate zigzags and notches.  Sometimes it is cut through longitudinally.  One extremely interesting specimen has a thread winding around the handle.  Unfortunately there is nothing to prove whether this device is aboriginal or suggested by an American screw.  The spoon served for eating acorn gruel, but women contented themselves with a mussel shell or the top of a deer skull.  Rich houses kept a store of fine spoons to bring out when they entertained dance guests (pl. 20).  Modern spoons are made of wood, but these are likely to be imitations, devised when the supply of antler was no longer obtainable.  Most Californians licked their daily gruel from the crooked index and middle fingers, but this does not seem to have been good Yurok manners.

The purse or money box was of the same shape as the large wooden box for dance valuables.  It averaged 6 to 7 inches in length.  Deer-horn specimens were smaller and less used.  Several strings of dentalia could be folded back and forth into an elk-antler purse.  The lid was then sprung on under a projection at one end and held in place by a thong wrapping.  Now and then a different purse was made from the antler where it forks.  This type was triangular.  All the horn purses were usually incised with the triangles or zigzags which are the basis of almost all Yurok decoration.  (Pl. 15.)

There must have been a needle, since rush mats were made by sewing a cord through the stems; but whether the instrument was of wood, horn, or bone, is not known.  The mats were sat and slept on by women in the living house.



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