Artifact: A Rare Native American Gorget

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A rare Native American gorget, at home in Newtown.
A rare Native American gorget, at home in Newtown.

Photograph by Anna Jones/OMS

In 400 A.D.—long before the Eastern Corridor project—Newtown was a bustling Native American community. Burial sites still blanket the area, evidenced by the Cincinnati Museum Center’s recent discovery of this shell gorget. The find, depicting a half-bird, half-feline creature, is one of only seven or eight engraved gorgets recovered in the entire country. “They’re very rarely engraved, especially with animals that are recognizable,” says museum archaeologist Bob Genheimer. “That’s what makes these so cool.”

Ancient Accessories
Archaeologists aren’t certain how exactly these gorgets were used back in the day. “The one we found had wear on it, which suggests it was handled [before being buried],” says Genheimer. “They do have suspension holes in them, so they may have been worn [as a necklace].”

Handle with Care
About six inches across and shaped “like a cereal bowl,” this gorget was likely engraved with a flint tool, according to Genheimer. “Marine shell itself is fairly soft.”

Tribe Called “?”
Archaeologists estimate the artifact is between 1,500 and 1,600 years old. Determining which Native American tribe it belonged to, however, is nearly impossible. “It’s very difficult to take tribal identities back that far in time,” says Genhemier. “It’s not really clear which current tribal groups would have even been here.”

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