Amulets, Effigies, Fetishes, and Charms: Native American Artifacts and Spirit Stones from the Northeast

Amulets, Effigies, Fetishes, and Charms: Native American Artifacts and Spirit Stones from the Northeast

by Edward J. Lenik

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Rounds out Edward J. Lenik’s comprehensive and expert study of the rock art of northeastern Native Americans
Decorated stone artifacts are a significant part of archaeological studies of Native Americans in the Northeast. The artifacts illuminated in Amulets, Effigies, Fetishes, and Charms: Native American Artifacts and Spirit Stones from the Northeast include pecked, sculpted, or incised figures, images, or symbols. These are rendered on pebbles, plaques, pendants, axes, pestles, and atlatl weights, and are of varying sizes, shapes, and designs. Lenik draws from Indian myths and legends and incorporates data from ethnohistoric and archaeological sources together with local environmental settings in an attempt to interpret the iconography of these fascinating relics. For the Algonquian and Iroquois peoples, they reflect identity, status, and social relationships with other Indians as well as beings in the spirit world.
Lenik begins with background on the Indian cultures of the Northeast and includes a discussion of the dating system developed by anthropologists to describe prehistory. The heart of the content comprises more than eighty examples of portable rock art, grouped by recurring design motifs. This organization allows for in-depth analysis of each motif. The motifs examined range from people, animals, fish, and insects to geometric and abstract designs. Information for each object is presented in succinct prose, with a description, illustration, possible interpretation, the story of its discovery, and the location where it is now housed. Lenik also offers insight into the culture and lifestyle of the Native American groups represented. An appendix listing places to see and learn more about the artifacts and a glossary are included.
The material in this book, used in conjunction with Lenik’s previous research, offers a reference for virtually every known example of northeastern rock art. Archaeologists, students, and connoisseurs of Indian artistic expression will find this an invaluable work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817319236
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 11/22/2016
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Edward J. Lenik is the president and principal investigator of Sheffield Archaeological Consultants, a cultural resource management firm in Wayne, New Jersey. An authority on rock art in the Northeast, he has led workshops on artifact analysis and archaeology lab work at New Jersey museums. He is the author of Making Pictures in Stone: American Indian Rock Art of the Northeast and Picture Rocks: American Indian Rock Art in the Northeast Woodlands.

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Amulets, Effigies, Fetishes, and Charms

Native American Artifacts and Spirit Stones from the Northeast

By Edward J. Lenik

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2016 University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-9020-4


Northeastern Cultural History


When the first European explorers arrived on the coast of northeastern North America in the sixteenth century, they were met by Indians who spoke Algonkian. These Indians occupied a wide area, extending from the eastern maritime provinces of Canada along the east coast and adjacent inland regions to North Carolina. During this early Historic Contact period, the Indians in what is now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were referred to as the Mi'kmaq. In New England they were referred to as the Eastern Abenaki, Western Abenaki, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Pennacook, Soloki, Pocumtuck, Massachusetts, Narragansett, Pequot, Nipmuck, and Wampanoag. In east-central New York, southwestern Massachusetts, and northern Connecticut, they were known as the Mahicans. Southeastern New York, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware were the homeland of the Lenape, later called the Delaware Indians. Within each of these broad tribal territories were smaller bands of Indians that the Europeans recorded under a variety of names (Trigger 1978:ix; Johnson 1995:6, 12, 14, 19; Kraft 2001:2).

Iroquoian people lived along the Saint Lawrence River valley around Lake Ontario and eastern Lake Erie, and in central New York, including the Mohawk and Susquehanna River valleys. These people are referred to as the Saint Lawrence Iroquoian, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Huron, Petun and Neutral confederacies, Erie, and Susquehannock (Trigger 1978:ix). These Iroquoian speakers were surrounded by the Algonkian-speaking peoples. Relationships between the two language groups were both hostile and friendly. In the seventeenth century the five Iroquois tribes of New York — the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca — were at war with nearly every other tribe in the Northeast.

The tribes generally lived in small, independent villages or hamlets consisting of several hundred people. Each hamlet had its own leader, a sachem or chief, whose authority and rule was based on persuasion and consensus. Tribes occupied their own geographic territory and had a set of family or clan symbols known as totems. These were emblems or names that identified members of a family and were usually those of animals, birds, or fish.


The northeastern Algonkian-speaking peoples' worldview included a concept called manitou. Algonkians believed the entire universe was filled with meaning and power. Manitou was a force, spirit, or energy that was present in all things. Indians had a deep spiritual connection with the mysterious spirits who inhabited rocks, trees, plants, animals, water; the sun, moon, and stars; the forces of nature such as wind, rain, lightning, and thunder; and special places in the landscape (Vastokas and Vastokas 1973:33; Rajnovich 1994:10). Spirits and places of spiritual power were associated with special topographical features such as unusual boulders, rock formations, mountaintops, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, streams, and islands. Storms of any kind were alive, active, and filled with spiritual power. Algonkians viewed the natural and spiritual worlds as one entity in which people shared the same landscape and were intimately connected.

Shamans were men or women who had exceptional visionary experiences and, with the help of powerful spirits, were able to access, control, or influence the mysterious power or energy present in the world (Vastokas and Vastokas 1973:35). By dreaming in a trance state, shamans could obtain power in the form of a spiritual helper. Once they received a helper, they became that spirit; they had the power to transform themselves into a manitou. Shamans, commonly called medicine men, entered a trance state to achieve a variety of goals such as healing the sick, foretelling the future, meeting spirit animals, changing the weather, or controlling animals or individuals by spiritual means (Clottes and Lewis-Williams 1996:19; Whitely 1996:8). Rock art, in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs, was often made as a record of accomplishment by individuals who were successful in achieving contact with the spirits and receiving powerful medicine. Shamans entered the rock haunts of the spirits, the abodes of the manitous, in a quest for spiritual power, and they illustrated the stories of their journeys on the rocks (Rajnovich 1994:10; Bragdon 1996:30).

Algonkians believed that good manitous were present in the heavens and on earth. Bad manitous resided belowground and underwater. Among the good manitous were the sun, moon, bodies of water, the forest, the four winds and thunderbirds of the sky, bear, wolf, and turtle. Bad manitous included such things as storms, cold weather, a Great Lynx, and a horned snake of the underground and underwater (Rajnovich 1994:36). The universe was layered. The sky, earth, underground, and underwater were distinct worlds that met at edges in such places as lakes, whirlpools, caves, rock crevices, and the bases of cliffs. The places where these worlds met, where sky, earth, water, and underground touched one another, were the home of the manitous. A shaman could travel from one world to another (Rajnovich 1994:35).


As a cultural and dating backdrop for rock art, a brief summary of the prehistory of the Northeast is presented here. The Northeast, as defined for this book, includes the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario, the six New England states, New York, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. This is a region of diverse topography and environmental settings where many Indian groups have prospered for thousands of years.

The prehistoric archaeological record of the Northeast consists of four time periods of Indian cultural history: Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland-Ceramic, and Historic Contact. In the following sections, the principal cultural "markers" of each period are discussed up to and including the point at which a new group of people, the European explorers and settlers, arrived with a new material culture that included a written language. Projectile points and pottery are among the most commonly found artifacts at prehistoric sites and are frequently used as a means of dating them.

Paleo-Indian Period (ca. 10,500–8000 B.C.)

The Paleo-Indian period includes the time from the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier from the region to the development of early Holocene environments. Following deglaciation, the landscape consisted of tundra-like vegetation including sedges, mosses, and lichens. This was succeeded by open parkland vegetation characterized by a mosaic of grasslands and coniferous forests. Initially, the climate was wet and cold, but gradual warming resulted in the expansion of boreal forests dominated by spruce and fir. Faunal species such as mammoth, mastodon, caribou, giant beaver, elk, moose, peccary, bear, and horse were present in the region and potentially available for exploitation by early Paleo-Indian hunters. Many of these animals are now extinct or no longer native to parts of the Northeast.

The Paleo-Indians were hunter-gatherers who roamed widely in search of food and raw materials. Their settlement pattern consisted of small temporary camps. They traveled in single or multiple family bands. Archaeologists have found and identified such sites as occupations, domestic camps, quarries and workshops, caches, bone deposits, and isolated or scattered finds of stone tools.

The material remains of the Paleo-Indians include primarily their stone tools. Their tool kits include Clovis-type fluted projectile points, a diagnostic artifact of this period. They also produced bifacial knives, drills, gravers, burins, scrapers, flake cores, and flake tools with no formal shape. They used these tools to procure and process animals and plants and to work bone, wood, and hides. The tools were generally made from high-quality stone.

One portable petroglyph attributable to the Paleo-Indian period has been found in the Northeast. A small pebble with an incised ladder-like motif was recovered from the West Athens Hill site in Greene County, New York (Ritchie and Funk 1973:27, 28, 30).

Archaic Period (ca. 8000–1000 B.C.)

During the Archaic period, a major shift occurred in the settlement and subsistence patterns of Indian groups. Hunting and gathering were still the basic ways of life during this time, but the emphasis in subsistence shifted from larger game animals, which were rapidly becoming extinct, to smaller game animals and plants of the deciduous forest. The environment differed from that of the preceding period as the open grasslands were replaced by temperate habitats consisting of forests of oak, pine, and hemlock.

The settlement pattern of the Archaic people indicates larger, more permanent habitation sites. These people were very efficient in exploiting their environment, and plant food resources along with fish and shellfish played a more important role in their diet.

The tool kit of the Early Archaic people (ca. 8000–6000 B.C.) was basically the same as that of the Paleo-Indians, with the exception of projectile points. Early Archaic hunters' spear points and knives were bifurcated or basally notched and were generally made of high-quality stone.

The Middle Archaic period spans the time between 6000 B.C. and 4000 B.C. The archaeological record suggests that a population increase took place during this period. Corner-notched and stemmed projectile points called Neville, commonly fashioned from local materials, were prominent during this period. The tool kits of the Middle Archaic people included grinding stones, mortars, and pestles. An example of portable rock art from this cultural period is an incised stone slab containing three images: a serpent or snake, a human figure, and a star or sun, recovered from the Titicut site in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

During the Late Archaic period (ca. 4000–1000 B.C.), the Indians were more specialized hunter-gatherers who exploited a variety of upland and lowland settings in a well-defined and scheduled seasonal round. Projectile points of this period were diverse and included corner-notched, side-notched, and stemmed points with wide or narrow blades of variable length. Other tools of this period were woodworking tools such as stone axes, adzes, and gouges, milling equipment, and net sinkers.

Elaborate ceremonialism developed, and exotic trade items such as copper adzes and spear points were imported from sources in the Upper Midwest. These copper tools have been found in burial sites. Toward the end of the Late Archaic period (ca. 1700–1000 B.C.), new and radically different broad-bladed projectile points were developed. Archaeologists refer to this time as the Terminal Archaic or Transition period. The use of steatite (soapstone) or stone bowls is a hallmark of this period. Examples of portable rock art from the Archaic period include two pebbles inscribed with thunderbird images, both recovered from the Wapanucket site on Assawompsett Lake in Middleborough, Massachusetts. This site is dated to the Late Archaic period, ca. 4,300 years before the present.

Woodland or Ceramic Period (ca. 1000 B.C. to ca. A.D. 1600)

The Woodland or Ceramic period is also divided into Early, Middle, and Late time frames. This period is distinguished from the Archaic period by the introduction of ceramic vessels, which replaced soapstone bowls. In addition, horticulture began during this period and later became well established with the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash. Tobacco pipes, some of which are portable rock art, and smoking were adopted. The bow and arrow replaced the spear and javelin during this period. The habitation sites of the Woodland-Ceramic period Indians increased in size and permanence.

The use of fired ceramic vessels began during the Early Woodland-Ceramic period, about 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1. Along with using pottery, Indian groups became more sedentary and increasingly socially complex. Elaborate ceremonialism is indicated at a number of burial sites by the presence of red ochre, copper beads, effigy figurines, gorgets, pendants, and large stone blades interred with the deceased. Copper beads and awls and tubular stone pipes were imported trade goods from the Midwest. Projectile points are also chronological indicators of the Early Woodland-Ceramic period and include the Meadowood and Adena types.

During the Middle Woodland-Ceramic period, from about A.D. 1 to about A.D. 1000, cord marking and decorative motifs on ceramic vessels became common. Hunting, fishing, and gathering continued on a seasonal cycle. Data from archaeological excavations indicate that Indian groups developed long-distance social, political, and trade networks during this time. Diagnostic projectile points of this Middle period include such types as Fox Creek and Jack's Reef.

The Late Woodland-Ceramic period spans nearly six centuries, from the end of the Middle period to the arrival of European settlers. Collared ceramic vessels, including many with incised decoration, made their appearance. Large triangular projectile points known as the Levanna type became common throughout this time, and smaller triangular forms known as Madison appeared near the end of this period. Such points were attached to an arrow shaft and shot with a bow. Hunting, fishing, and gathering continued, but maize horticulture became increasingly important in many areas, resulting in the establishment of larger communities or villages. Palisaded villages developed in some regions during the end of the Late Woodland-Ceramic period. For example, Iroquois-related people in New York and eastern Pennsylvania used defensive stockades around their villages. This suggests that episodes of warfare occurred along with cultural and village instability. Petroglyphs are abundant in the Woodland-Ceramic period and depict a variety of subjects and motifs.

The Historic Contact Period (ca. A.D. 1500–1800)

Contact with Europeans did not begin or end at the same time everywhere in the Northeast. Ethnohistorical evidence indicates that almost all Indians in this region spoke closely related Eastern Algonkian languages at the time of contact. Each ethnic or tribal group had its own distinct dialect, social and political organization, and spiritual beliefs, but all shared to some extent a regional cultural tradition. The Indians in central and upstate New York, however, spoke northern Iroquoian languages.

The arrival of European explorers, fishermen, traders, and subsequently settlers produced dramatic cultural changes among the Indian groups in the Northeast. Following contact, a pattern of trade developed and the Indians began to acquire European-made tools, guns, utensils, ornaments, cloth, and other items. As trade increased and continued, more goods of European origin were acquired. Such items are frequently found on archaeological sites of this period. During this time, all Indian groups east of the Kennebec River in Maine continued their subsistence economy of hunting, gathering, and fishing, while those to the west and south were horticulturists.

With the coming of the Europeans, Indian groups in several areas succumbed to diseases brought in by these newcomers. The Indians had no natural immunity to these diseases. Colonial wars between the Dutch, the British, and the French, kidnappings and slave raids by Europeans, and intertribal conflicts over trade, territory, and influence caused social upheaval, and the demands for Indian lands by settlers decimated the Indian populations and dispossessed many groups from their homelands. In time, these agents of instability led to the breakup of ethnic groups and the establishment of a new way of life and accommodation with European settlers.


Anthropomorphic or Human Images

Representations of humans in various forms are quite common on decorated stone artifacts and on nonportable sites in areas occupied by Algonkian- and Iroquoian-speaking people. They occur on utilitarian objects such as stone tools and pipes, on personal body ornaments such as pendants, charms, and gorgets, and on ritual or spiritual objects. The human images include sculpted effigy faces and heads, full-length figures such as figurines, stylized figures on pebbles, and simple facial features on cobbles and on masks or maskettes. Body parts are also represented, such as sculpted phalli, pecked handprints, and an incised skeleton. These decorated objects are made from a variety of soft and hard materials including steatite, sandstone, siltstone, slate, shale, chlorite, and common pebbles and cobbles.

The majority of these portable petroglyphs were found in known and documented archaeological sites, usually within cultural features such as burial, refuse, or storage pits. However, many of the artifacts discussed here are surface-collected finds recovered by relic collectors or a vocational archaeologists; these specimens have little provenience and contextual data.

A small effigy stone with two pecked eyes and a mouth, recovered from the Eddy site in Manchester, New Hampshire, and dated to 7,000 years ago, is a significant cultural object. It indicates that this simple effigy face motif is a spiritual symbol of great antiquity, which Indians continued to use in decorating a variety of artifacts for thousands of years in the Northeast.

Nearly all of the decorated artifacts discussed and illustrated here date to the Woodland-Ceramic cultural period, about 3,000 years ago to about 400 years ago. Two artifacts, a sculpted figurine representing an Indian found at the Mystic Fort site in Connecticut, and a button mold recovered from a grave in Lincoln, Massachusetts, date to the Historic Contact period, about A.D. 1600 to A.D. 1800.


Excerpted from Amulets, Effigies, Fetishes, and Charms by Edward J. Lenik. Copyright © 2016 University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction xvii

1 Northeastern Cultural History 1

2 Anthropomorphic or Human Images 8

3 Terrestrial Mammals 45

4 Fish, Shellfish, and Sea Mammals 56

5 Reptiles and Amphibians 72

6 Birds and Insects 86

7 Geometric and Abstract Designs 107

8 Retrospective Summary: Marking Places and Things 124

Appendix: Seeing Portable Rock Art 145

Glossary 159

References 163

Index 175

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