After those last two effusions about Latin and Greek music, I was planning to write about one of my true loves, classical music. All in good time.
Instead, I feel like writing something about another, my love for the subject of pre-Columbian Native America. There’s a piece of Mississippian shell art, a gorget from Hamilton County, Tennessee (AD 1200-1400), that I personally consider the most evocative image I’ve ever found from that lost world.
I gather that the gorget now resides at the McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, but I made bold to do a line drawing of it for my old book, which I’ve included in my Gallery of Artifacts. It presents a pair of “falcon” warriors.
So what if it’s rendered in a rather “primitive,” or better, unsophisticated, manner. The original artist was working with the tools and materials available and did a remarkable job. It’s the concept behind the image that fascinates me. So much so that almost thirty years ago, I re-visioned these warriors as a bas relief in modeling clay in a, shall we say, more modern or sophisticated manner.
The model has lurked around (actually quite prominently) on my bookshelves, desks, etc. ever since, suffering a tiny bit of damage to the antlers and the seashell pendants, and growing an intriguing darkened glaze on its still soft surfaces. That just makes it more existentially real.
Still in love with the underlying concept, I recently played around with the above photo on my freeware program (GNU Image Manipulation Program) to try and bring out the image better. Apologies that I love purple and amethysts.
I rather like the depth of the figures and wings, don’t you? It’s great to contemplate the details, like the pattern on the feathers, reminiscent of the barred pattern of the peregrine falcon. The claw-feet are quite like those frequently found in early Mexican iconography, and their flint “swords” have apparently been unearthed at many archaeological sites. The bun hairstyle and beaded forelock would seem to be standard fashion as they’re found in images from all over the Southeast and even on shell art from the Spiro site in Oklahoma. The deer-antler headdress is also rather frequent and may just possibly relate to the Celtic horned god of nature and fertility, Cernunnos.
Most intriguing is the fact that these warriors have each seized hold of a lock of the other’s hair. It’s tempting to think of this as perhaps a form of “counting coup” on each other in a battle, but I’m inclined to think it’s more of an affectionate connection, maybe between twin brothers who comprise the falcon. You could run on about duality and all that, I guess, but whatever.
And in that case, I really have to wonder if this warrior pair might possibly be a faint, distant echo of the Maya Hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque. Just saying.