NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art

Brass Kettle
Brass Kettle from the Connecticut State Archaeological Collections.
Kettle Manufacture and Repair

By the 1600's Native Americans of the Northeast had acquired a wealth of knowledge for working European sheet metals which was no doubt combined with experience in indigenous metals before contact. There is archaeological evidence dating to the 17th century of Natives ability to join broken or cut-out pieces of brass and copper. Many patches of brass and fragments of kettles which bear evidence of native repair. Holes had been punched through patches overlapping the broken edges of kettles, through which hand-made rivets of sheet metal were placed and hammered flat to secure a patch.

A 17th century Narragansett kettle from Rhode Island was made by riveting together sections of metal (Simmons 1970). Similarly, tiny kettles, from the Connecticut State Archaeological Collections, measuring less than 5 inches tall, are made from riveted sections of brass and have handmade rolled handles or 'bails'. These small kettles may be entirely of Native manufacture, both of them have rounded bottoms, and one has a diagonal hatched design hammered around the rim. Both vessels bear resemblance to pottery made in earlier years among the Native Americans of New England.

Kettle Pieces Fastened with Brads Natives of New England also used other methods to fasten together pieces of sheet metal. Narragansetts in the 17th century joined pieces of metal by punching a hole through the pieces to be spliced, But instead of rolled rivets, a brad-like staple was inserted through the hole and hammered flat from the outside, flaring the ends of the staple on the inside, and thereby securing the pieces.

By the mid-1600's at least, Native Americans from southern New England had mastered techniques of cutting, drilling, etching, forming, joining, and decorating sheet metal of European origin. In his archaeological analysis of Seneca brass and copper items, Wray et. al. (1987) insist that the skill required to make many of the rolled and riveted items, and because of the similarity between items made by both coastal and interior groups of Natives, there may have been Native metal work specialists who traded their products inland.

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