The Swastika: The Earliest Known Symbol & its Migrations
The Cross Among The American Indians
totem of a clan, the insignia of a ruler, the charm of a priesthood, or did it, with all the associated shell engravings, belong to the category of trinkets? These questions may be partially answered in the section on the meanings given to the cross by the North American Indians (p. 933).
There is also introduced, as bearing on the question, another shell ornament (fig. 306), the style, design, and workmanship of which has such resemblance to the foregoing that if they had not been (as they were) found together we would be compelled to admit their identity or origin, yet the latter specimen has but three arms instead of four. This might take it out of the category of crosses as a symbol of any religion of which we have knowledge. Many of the art objects in shell heretofore cited were more or less closely associated; they came from the same neighborhood and were the results of the same excavations, conducted by the same excavators. In determining the culture status of their makers, they must be taken together.
When we consider the variety of the designs which were apparently without meaning except for ornamentation, like the circles, meanders, zigzags, chevrons, herringbones, ogees, frets, etc., and the representations of animals such as were used to decorate the pipes of the aborigines, not alone the bear, wolf, eagle, and others which might be a totem and represent a given clan, but other which, according to our knowledge and imagination, have never served for such a purpose, as the manatee, beaver, wildcat, heron, finch, sparrow, crow, raven, cormorant, duck, toucan, goose, turkey, buzzard, cardinal, parroquet, conies, lizard; when we further consider that the cross, whether Greek, Latin, or Swastika form, is utterly unlike any known or possible totem of clan, insignia of ruler, or potent charm of priesthood; when we consider these things, why should we feel ourselves compelled to accept these signs as symbols of a hidden meaning, simply because religious sects in different parts of the world and at different epochs of history have chosen them or some of them to represent their peculiar religious ideas? This question covers much space in geography and in time, as well as on paper. It is not answered here, because no answer can be given which would be accepted as satisfactory, but it may serve as a track or indication along which students and thinkers might pursue their investigations.
The U. S. National Museum possesses a necklace consisting of three shell ornaments, interspersed at regular intervals with about fifty small porcelain beads (figs. 307). (1) It was obtained by Capt. George M. Whipple from the Indians of New Mexico. These shell ornaments are similar to objects described by Beverly in his work on the "History of Virginia," page 145, as "runtees" and "made of the conch shell; only the shape is flat as a cheese and drilled edgewise." It is to be remarked that on its face as well as on figs. 308 and 309 (1) appears a cross of the Greek form indicated by these peculiar indentations or drillings enclosed in a small circle. The specimen shown in fig. 308 is from an ancient grave in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and that shown in fig. 309 form an Indian cemetery at Onondaga, N. Y. Similar specimens have been found in the same localities.
The Cross On Pottery.
Fig. 310 shows a small globular cup of dark ware from the vicinity of Charleston, Mo.; height, 2 ½ inches; width, 3½ inches. It has four large nodes or projections, and between them, painted red, are four ornamental circles, the outside one of which is scalloped or rayed, while the inside one bears the figure of a Greek cross. The specimen shown in fig. 311 (Cat. No. 47197, U. S. N. M.) is a medium-sized decorated olla with scalloped margin, from new Mexico, collected by Colonel Stevenson. It has two crosses --- one Greek, the other Maltese --- both enclosed in circles and forming centers of an elaborate, fanciful, shield-like decoration. In fig. 312 (Cat. No. 39518, U. S. N. M.) is shown a Cochiti painted water vessel, same collection, showing a Maltese cross.
Dozens of other specimens are in the collections of the U. S. National Museum which would serve to illustrate the extended and extensive
1. Schoolcraft, "History of the Indian Tribes," III, pl. 25; Second Ann. Rep. Bureau of Ethnology, 1880-81, pl. 36 [Back]