Native American Technology and Art

Metal Casting

There is ample evidence for the Native American art of casting pewter and lead in historic New England. In the mid-1600's, bullet molds are fairly common among the Iroquois and there is also evidence for casting pewter spoons (Beauchamp 1902). However, there is little written or archaeological evidence of brass and copper casting among the Native Americans. Brass or copper casting was probably rare or not practiced by Native Americans due to difficulty in reaching temperatures high enough to melt the metal (Beauchamp 1902).

Brass Combs:

Native Americans in southern New England wore decorative brass hair combs with traditional native animal and bifurcate (whale-tail) design designs. Roger Williams' (1973) comments from 1643 about Narragansett casting may indicate that some brass combs were Native-made in the 17th century. Narragansett brass combs have been found in Rhode Island (Turnbaugh 1984). Wampanoag brass hair combs from this time period are found in Rhode Island. The 'kissing animal' designs on these comb, as well as the small 'dot in a circle' design, are very similar to that found on many late prehistoric and early historic bone and antler combs, and supports the theory that combs were manufactured by Native Americans (Groce 1980). A similar cast brass comb may have belonged to Ninigret's daughter Weunquesh in the late 1600's (Simmons 1978).

Lead Ornaments:

Casting lead is well documented among the Native Americans of southern New England in the 1600's (Beauchamp 1902). Objects cast from lead include animal effigies, shot, and possibly more complicated gun furniture. Lead casting equipment, including carved steatite molds for pendants and buttons, as well as finished buttons, raw cylinders, musketballs, or chunks of lead and pewter have been found at Fort Shantok, a 17th century Mohegan village. Steatite button molds presumably made by Native Americans of Connecticut in the early historic period are also among the Connecticut State Archaeological Collections. Beauchamp (1903) depicts several cast lead effigies, resembling turtles, other animals and humans, made by the Native Americans in what is now New York State.

Lead Shot:

In the 17th century, Wampanoag Natives of Rhode Island, as well other Natives of New England, made use of lead shot and European shot molds (Blanchette 1980). Native Americans were also quite adept at making their own molds and casting in lead. In William Bradford's narrative of early historic New England, he refers to the mastery of the Native Americans in casting lead shot and other weapon related items:

    "They have also their moulds to make shot of all sorts, as musket bullets, pistol bullets, swan and goose shot, and of smaller sorts. Yea some have seen them have their screw-plates to make screw-pins themselves when the want them, with sundry other implements, wherewith they are ordinarily better fitted and furnished than the English themselves" (Bradford 1981).

Metal Work Bibliography and Books to Buy On-Line

Return to Metal Working Menu

Go To NativeTech's Home Page

© 1994-1999 Tara Prindle.