Tuesday, October 22, 2013

MUSEUM OF NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY

The Museum of Native American History lets visitors take a long look back 

The Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Ark., is a gem in providing a comprehensive history of American Indians as shown by their artifacts. I have visited 45 such sites and museums, and found this museum to be surpassed only by the National Native American Museum in Washington, D.C., which is supported by the U.S. government, in terms of range and depth of materials covered. The Bentonville museum is the vision of one man, David Bogle, whom I interviewed during a visit to his museum.

Bogle, a member of the Cherokee tribe, started his collection as a Boy Scout. Later in life, he started buying other collections when they came on the market. In 2008 he moved the artifacts into a building that had been redesigned to hold them. His wife was happy to get them out of the house to give her some room, Bogle said. When the University of Arkansas Museum closed because of lack of funding, Bogle was given access to its 2 million artifacts in storage, some of which are included in his museum.



Arrow heads 12,000 years old are on displayThe Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Ark., is a gem in providing a comprehensive history of American Indians as shown by their artifacts. I have visited 45 such sites and museums, and found this museum to be surpassed only by the National Native American Museum in Washington, D.C., which is supported by the U.S. government, in terms of range and depth of materials covered. The Bentonville museum is the vision of one man, David Bogle, whom I interviewed during a visit to his museumBogle, a member of the Cherokee tribe, started his collection as a Boy Scout. Later in life, he started buying other collections when they came on the market. In 2008 he moved the artifacts into a building that had been redesigned to hold them. His wife was happy to get them out of the house to give her some room, Bogle said. When the University of Arkansas Museum closed because of lack of funding, Bogle was given access to its 2 million artifacts in storage, some of which are included in his museum.

Need an accBogle said his intention is to educate the public about the complex and long history of American Indians by offering the usual objects people know about from the movies but also introducing them to a more complete history. One way he has done this is with an excellent audio tour that gives a brief description of many items. If you want to know more about a particular piece, you push the pound key. For example, on spear points you get a description about how they were used and how shapes mattered; pushing the pound key you get a description of the two kinds of tools and methods that were used to create them.

Modern Americans have come to expect a new invention or product every month. In this museum, we see how slowly new products came into use as conditions changed and geniuses of the Thomas Edison level came up with new tools and crops to ensure survival. We need to remember that there was no way to preserve information or to share it widely, so their tool kit developed over thousands of years without the advantages of books or metal.

The museum introduces us to the different time periods, each section starting with either a brief informational film or audio recording. We began with the Paleo Period (12,000 to 8,500 B.C.) when Indians hunted mastodons and other giant animals using mainly the spear and the stone knife as weapons. The number of excellent tools of the period is impressive, as is the commentary on their different uses and development.



A great deal of creativity was shown in the instruments to do common tasks

People living during the Archaic Period (8000 to 1000 B.C.) had to develop new ways of living and hunting because of the extinction of the giant herds. The world was warming, and different tools were needed. Some ancient genius developed the atlatl, a spear launcher that added distance, force and accuracy to a man's throwing arm. Stone tools were being invented to process nuts, berries and roots, as were tools to work wood into useable shapes such as boats and ax handles.

In the Woodland Period (1000 BC to 900 A.D.) villages became larger and cultivated crops became necessary for survival. During this time, the Indians invented the hoe by attaching large sharp stones to wooden handles. Burial customs became complex, and the mound culture became more widespread across the continent. Some rebel invented smoking, and fancy pipes cut out of stone became common.

At this point in the museum we moved into a more modern period.

Museum offers glimpse into the lives of Native American tribes

In the first part of this story I’ve focused on the first 12,000 years of Native American history.  In this part the emphasis will be on the two more modern historical periods.

During an interview, museum owner David Bogle, who is a member of the Cherokee tribe, stressed that his goal is to educate the public about the history of American Indians through their artifacts. The complex pottery pieces in the displays for the Mississippian Period (900 A.D. to 1650) were excellent. The great cultures that existed during this time period began to disappear. Nineteen out of every 20 American Indians died, probably because of the introduction of diseases from the Europeans, such as small pox.Need an account? Create one now.

The Historic Period (1650 to 1900) is the one most of us are familiar with. Of the many displays for this era, I especially enjoyed that of the work of Edward Curtis, a photographer who, with the backing of President Teddy Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan, spent 30 years involving himself in the American Indian cultures west of the Mississippi before they disappeared. The Crow Indians called him the "One Body Image Taker." He was not supported by the government Indian agents who were trying to wipe out Indian culture, rituals and language.

Curtis used an old-fashioned glass-plate negative camera that produced a very sharp, dark-brownish picture and required the American Indians to pose, producing very striking, personality-filled pictures. No other historian recorded so much of the histories of the various Western tribes. He was impressed with the details of the "myths" that traced the movements of the tribes over many years, so he learned where they had originally lived. He is considered the best source of factual material about the lifestyles and rituals of the Indians west of the Mississippi.




A bison hide with symbols that help the tribe historian remembers what happened each year.

Matt Rowe/ Museum of Native American History

Although the histories of various tribes were largely oral, bison hides emblazoned with symbols portraying major events from past years served as memory devices for the tale-tellers.
I also was fascinated by the large bison hide covered with symbols arranged in a circular pattern called a "winter count," a concept I had not been aware of before despite having visited many other American Indian museums. The histories of the various tribes typically were recounted orally, and the winter count skins were developed as a memory device. Each symbol represents a year, from the first snow of one year to the first snow of the next, and the group decided which event would become the symbol to help the tale-teller remember all the other important events of the year. A book on the winter count helps visitors decipher the symbols, which refer to such things as a smallpox attack, falling stars, the coming of cattle and various battles. Each skin could cover 70 or 80 years of history.

There is much more to explore. Bogle said he was very pleased when he saw the free audio tours drawing the intense concentration of schoolchildren who visited the museum. For anyone interested in American Indian history, this is a gem of a museum.



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