An Ongoing Exploration: Getting to Know Red Ochre

iron seep 3 rt 30 brattleboro 2019

A very significant cultural component: ritual adornment, mortuary practice, healing properties, ornamentation… the importance of red ochre to the Abenaki, and to many indigenous cultures, cannot be overemphasized. The word  in Aln8baiwi is olamanjagw, red ochre mud; when mixed with grease,  it is simply olaman. In Anishinaabemowin, the word is very similar: onaman. Ochre is derived from natural iron oxide compounds, in mineral deposits, clay, or iron seeps , where iron oxidizing bacteria augment the chemical conversion.

iron ochre names royal society of canada 1885

Publication of Royal Society of Canada, 1885.

Local people sought nearby sources of this valuable material; if they were not fortunate in this respect, they were obliged to trade for it. Here in Sokwakik there is an abundance of iron in the local geology. An iron seep just north of Wantastegok yields an abundant flow of ferrous oxide mud, carried with the groundwater through a mineral-rich ledge of Waits River schist and emerging on the east face. In the summer, the iron-oxidizing bacteria colonies form amazing cellular structures. In the winter, these lose their shape and form a hard, crumbly crust. The pigmented mud accumulates in the crevices of the rock and can be collected simply, with a little careful examination of the best pockets.

The seep in summer.

The seep in winter

By collecting this dark red-brown mud, heating (oxidizing) ’til it reached its maximum color (too much heat will result in a darker, browner hue), and then sifting it, I  was able to produce a nice amount of orange/dark red/brown pigment on an initial trial. This could be further pulverized with a mortar and pestle, before mixing with a grease or oil and used for painting the body, or another use.

More to come…

 

 

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Dr. Marge Bruchac in Northampton, On the Wampum Trail

marge-bruchac-wampum-trail

A talk was given by Dr. Margaret Bruchac on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 at Historic Northampton, 46 Bridge Street, Northampton, MA, entitled “The Wampum Trail: Restorative Research in Native American Collections”

A pdf of the flyer for the presentation can be seen here.

The “Wampum Trail” research project examines the use of northeastern Native American quahog and whelk shell beads for adornment, ritual, and diplomacy. During the early 1600s, wampum beads were widely used in trading exchanges throughout the Connecticut River Valley, but wampum’s significance was more than merely monetary. Native artisans used distinctive weaving techniques (with sinew, leather, and hemp), bead selections (including glass, stone, and other anomalous beads), and patterns (both abstract and figurative) to construct belts that recorded important material and diplomatic relationships.
By re-visiting archival sources and analyzing the construction of beads and belts in museum collections, Dr. Bruchac has recovered many previously overlooked material details. She also consults with present-day Native American wampum-keepers to develop effective strategies for recovering other hidden Native American object histories in museum collections. For more information, see her research blog, “On the Wampum Trail,” and her articles on the Penn Museum Blog, “Beyond the Gallery Walls.”

Dr. Margaret M. Bruchac is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Associate Professor of Cultural Heritage, and Coordinator of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. From 2003-2010, she served as the Five College Repatriation Research Liaison, and from 1998-2010, she served as a Trustee of Historic Northampton. Her publications include “Native Presence in Nonotuck and Northampton,” in A Place Called Paradise: Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1654-2004 (Kerry Buckley, ed., University of Massachusetts Press 2004), and “Lost and Found: NAGPRA, Scattered Relics and Restorative Methodologies” (Museum Anthropology 2010).