9th Experimental Archaeology Conference poster – Herriett

When the dance ceases & the fire is put out. (Catlin, 1844). Smoking the Shield – Is There An Alternative to Leather

Sally Herriett

University of Bristol

There are numerous processing methods, which when applied to green skin result in the production of a viable material. The variety of materials and thus the products created are obviously determined by particular nuances within each method and the environment that the material then resides in. Many of these methods can be easily reproduced using primitive prehistoric technology and with the additional of only the simplest of ingredients. Although many of these processing methods result in viable and versatile materials they may not render the material impervious to the process of decay and as an organic material if left uncared for it will rot. The value of this material as a prehistoric commodity is not disputed (Hurcombe, 2007, Gronman-Van Waatering et al., 1999), however, archaeologically its organic nature has resulted in relatively few discoveries.

Literature research into alternative processing skin methods revealed references from Catlin (1844), regarding the processing of buffalo skin carried out by Sioux men when they needed a new war shield, “the shield is made of the skin of the buffalo’s neck, hardened with the glue extracted from the hoofs and joints of the same animal’. Grinnell (1896) also noted that the shield “was heavy enough to turn the ball from an old-fashioned smooth-bored gun” and
Dellenbaugh (1906) also stated ‘they heat shrink and harden it’.

This paper seeks to introduce experimental research that demonstrates the potential for this method of skin processing, a method that uses obtainable prehistoric technology and offers a plausible alternative to that of Cuir-Bouilli, (the addition of wax and heat to hardened leather) as the process commonly considered the production method for the prehistoric shield known as the Clonbrin Shield. Results of initial experimentation using green cow skin and the application of heat and steam, generated by hot-stone technology will be examined as this alternative processing method explained further.

CATLIN, G. 1844. Letters and Notes on the manners, customs and condition of the North American Indians New York, Dover Publications inc

DELLENBAUGH, F. S. 1906. The North Americans of Yesterday: A Comparitive Study of North American Life, Customs & Products of the Theory of the Ethnic Unity of the Race, London, The Knickerbocker Press

GRINNELL, G. B. 1896. The Story of the Indian, New York, D Appleton And Company

GRONMAN-VAN WAATERING, W., KILIAN, M. & VAN-LONDEN, H. 1999. The curing of hides and skins in European prehistory. Antiquity 73, 884-90

HURCOMBE, L. M. 2007. Archaeological Artefacts as Material Culture, Oxon, Routledge


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