Native America

Mississippian bone gorget

aaaMystrySolvd-1065-aQ:  Of course this mask is Inuit and not Cherokee.  The fellow I’d mentioned previously, had gotten confused.  I’ve not seen one of these masks made with bone, like snow goggles.  My guess in age is the 1800’s?  Are the line markings on the back suggesting a spirit leaving, through the holes, to the spirit world?  I wonder what the markings around the eyes signify. It is 6 1/4″ high. What is your opinion?  PJ, 1065

A:  Gorgets are a Native American art form of polished, carved shell or bone pendants worn around the neck. The gorgets are frequently engraved, and are sometimes highlighted with pigments or pierced with openings. Gorgets were most common in Eastern Woodlands of the United States during the Mississippian cultural period (800–1500 CE); however, tribes from other regions and time periods also carved gorgets. They are believed to have been insignia of status or rank, either civic, military, or religious, or amulets of protective medicine among the Indians. These little mask-like items are very popular with American collectors, and nowadays most of the ones we see on the market are easy-to-carve fakes. I’m not  sure about this one.  BaaaMystrySolvd-1065-b




  • Bob Ibold

    There are a lot of labs in North America and Europe that will do carbon dating on old masks. The cost should be less than $200. Verifying the age is important to establishing authenticity.

  • Bob Ibold

    The new owner of the gorget emailed the following to me:

    I finally have the gorget in my hands and have thoroughly examined it and I have no doubt that it’s not a modern day reproduction. The patina has not been enhanced by chemicals such as stain/etc. There is no odor whatsoever and I’ve gotten fakes that gave themselves away by the liquids used to alter the patina. No modern tools were used on this. The openings of the eye holes are wider than on the back which suggests a modern day drill was not used and an old method was and no two holes are the exact same size. I’ve noticed on the reproductions the outside edges are flat, and not rounded like on this piece. The bone itself is very very hard and would be impossible to do the scrimshaw on it unless you were superman, so the bone is hundreds of years old, including the scrimshaw. Also, the scrimshaw lines are obviously done by hand and without the aide of a modern day drill. I have a lot of bone artifacts from different periods in history and this one is the hardest of them all. While gorgets normally only have two holes, the extra holes in this have an obvious intention, in that it’s a face/mask also. On the reproductions, the extra holes don’t appear to have any other use than being a hole. The wear on it is also normal in the spots that it should show and not randomly scattered to make it appear older. The upper two holes on the front have slight wear, hardly noticeable, made from whatever it was hung from (knots?). I’ve been studying age on artifacts all my life and am confident this gorget does date to at least 1500 AD.

  • Bob Ibold

    I just got this news from PJ…

    Ultimately, the mask sold for $695.00 and will be residing in the now privately owned jail, that was converted into a place for the collector to exhibit his many collections of Native American artifacts, in Yonkers, New York.

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