By Dolores Elliott
Archeologists define a projectile point type by listing the various characteristics that are shared by a quantity of points. Projectile points (dart, arrow, and spear points) vary widely in shape, size and material. Hundreds of different point types have been defined by archeologists who study the points used by ancient North American hunters
(over a period of some 12,000 years, point types changed tremendously).
Those points sharing similar traits are considered to have been made by members of a group of related people in a particular time period. If points from one site can be dated, it is assumed that other points of the same type at a different site date to the same time.
Likewise, types of Iroquois beadwork can be defined. As with points, pieces of Iroquois beadwork differ in shape, size and material used in construction. One such type is often referred to as the “fort-shaped” pincushion. These pincushions are shaped something like an 18th century North American fort. They range in size from 4.5 x 4.5 inches to 7.5 x 7.5 inches, the latter being the most common size. Most all of the pincushions are very firmly packed with sawdust.
Besides their shape, they share a couple more characteristics: they usually have four birds circling the center and those that have beaded words in the center have similar shaped letters; and the inscription “FROM NIAGARA FALLS” shares a wide letter “M” in by these fort-shaped pincushions, but is not seen on other pieces of beadwork with the same three words. So, in defining the type, it can be assumed that pieces of this type were sold at Niagara Falls. They were probably made by the same sewer. Those with similar shape with four birds but not identified as FROM NIAGARA FALLS can be assumed to be from there also. The wide Ms in the motto REMEMBER ME on one of the pincushions point to it belonging in this type. Another one with THINK OF ME on it also demonstrates this trait.
As for when the fort-shaped pincushions are made, there are some that are dated 1900 and 1901. Similar fort-shaped pincushions with no dates must also date to the turn of the century.
There are some pincushions that share some of the type characteristics but not all. Instead of having birds circling the center some feature four butterflies on the corners. It fits into the type. Likewise, another fort-shaped pincushion has four birds, but they are positioned on the corners instead of the sides.
Another set of pincushions that show a related type were probably made by the same bead worker. Instead of being fort-shaped, they are round-lobed pincushions. But they have birds circling the center and are labeled FROM NIAGARA FALLS with a wide M.
Other pincushions shaped like hearts or trilobe hearts may also share some characteristics with the fort-shaped pincushions and may have been made by the same bead worker, but that is for another essay.
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