In 1916, the Museum was given nearly 600 ceramic vessels from the Palmetto Mound site. New technologies recently allowed scientists to re-examine them and discover that most were not locally made, indicating extensive trade among native peoples in the Southeast.
Decatur Pittman donated this rare avian effigy vessel from near Cedar Key to the Florida Museum of Natural History just over 100 years ago. Mr. Pittman was an avocational archaeologist that amassed a collection of over 7,000 objects in the 1880s from a burial mound on what he called “Palmetto Island”. Most of these objects were ceramic sherds with diverse decorations from which 100 vessels were reconstructed from the estimated 600 represented in the collection, including the bird effigy pot in front of you.
This pot is fascinating because it is a rare combination of two mirrored avian images made from nonlocal clay. The head of each effigy was modeled in three dimensions and its body, tail, and wings were incised into the clay before the pot was fired. The head’s crest and flat, rectangular bill suggests that it represented a waterbird of some kind such as a Wood Duck. The incised wings are unusual because they become stylized designs along the sides of the pot that are associated with the Weeden Island tradition practiced about 1,000-1,500 years ago in the Deep South.
These effigy pots were always found in burial mounds and they may have been intentionally broken to release their spirits as intermediaries in the afterlife. The mica inclusions in the clay of this vessel indicate that it was probably made in the Panhandle of Florida or southwest Georgia.
Graduate Student, Florida Archaeology
Florida Museum of Natural History
Vessel with Bird Effigies
From Levy Co., Florida
Dates to ~AD 650