Monday, May 4, 2009

Maritime Archaic Indian Bird Headed Pins

I've been working on Maritime Archaic Indian bird headed pins for the past few days. They've always been a good seller and this spring I need about 20 of them for various customers around the province. I like making them because they don't have to be repurposed from their original function -- they were hair pins 4000 years ago and they still work as hair pins today.

This is a detail from a map made of a Maritime Archaic burial at Port au Choix, NL. You can see one of the bird headed pins still in position at the back of the head. You can find this drawing and much more information about the Maritime Archaic Indians in Jim Tuck's book, Ancient People of Port au Choix.
I try to use caribou bone for the pins, although I'll sometimes use moose. The end product is indistinguishable, but moose are an introduced species and have been in Newfoundland for just over 100 years. Although there were moose bone artifacts identified in the Port au Choix collection, caribou would have been more readily available to the Maritime Archaic Indians when they were living in Newfoundland from 5500-3200 years ago.

I use long bones that I get from a local butcher during hunting season. Ribs are long and flat enough to give you the basic pin shape, but they are a much weaker bone and will break more easily. All of the pins that I made this year come from two tibias, 1 caribou and 1 moose. I like to use tibias because they have nice straight shafts and flare at the ends. The flare gives you the extra area that you need at one end of the pin to carve the bird head.

There were several migratory bird species carved in the original pins and I mostly make loons and mergansers, which were among the most common types. I leave some of the pins natural bone colour and some of them I'll cover in red ochre. Most of the Maritime Archaic artifacs found at Port au Choix were covered in red ochre. For the pins intended for retail shops, I'll make a seal skin baratte to fit each pin. This is bit of speculation - there wasn't any leather preserved at Port au Choix. They might never have existed, but they help 21st century eyes recognize the function of the pins.

Elfshot Bone Pin Reproductions, Maritime Archaic Indian
Bone, Sealskin
$25.88 tax inc.

Photo Credits:
Top: Tim Rast
Middle: Jim Tuck, Ancient People of Port au Choix, 1976
Bottom: Erick Walsh

Photo Captions:
Top: The latest batch of Elfshot bone pins, natural and Red Ochre
Middle: Detail and map of Maritime Archaic burial, showing an in situ bone hair pin, ca. 4400-3300 B.P.
Bottom: An Elfshot bone pin and sealskin barrette.


  1. Do you have any issues with exporting these hair pins? Are there any problems with tourists taking them home to other countries?

  2. Both the bone and sealskin can be sold and transported throughout Canada without any issues. For the bone, craftspeople in the Province can get permits from the Wildlife office to collect, purchase, and possess legally hunted or dropped caribou/moose antlers and parts. Customers purchasing those products in the province should get paperwork from the producer or retailer so they don't have any problems crossing the border. Sealskin doesn't require any special paperwork in Canada (that I'm aware of), but many countries - the US included, have bans on importing any marine mammal products. For those people I can substitute different leather for the barrette.


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