Introduction Patagonia Andes Amazon Mesoamerica / Caribbean Southwest Plains / Plateau


Objects Collection Notes
(George Heye’s Legacy)
California / Great Basin Northwest Coast Arctic / Subarctic Contemporary Art

The history of the Woodlands—the United States and southern Canada east of the Mississippi River and along the shores of the Great Lakes—spans a remarkable depth of time. The oldest objects shown here—two re-fluted Clovis points found in upstate New York—date to 11,000 BC and are among the earliest evidence of Paleoindian culture to be seen in any museum collection.

The long-distance trade that occurred among peoples in the eastern Woodlands 6,000 to 1,000 years ago is among the most striking examples of regional interchange in all of Native North America. Bannerstones—weights tied to atlatls (spear-throwers) to make it possible to throw spears farther—are often found great distances from where their stone was quarried. Their widespread use indicates that Native peoples bridged vast distances from a remarkably early date.

Between AD 900 and 1600, complex chiefdoms that built monumental architecture—large platform mounds and open plazas—emerged in the South. Chiefdoms’ large population centers were supported by corn agriculture. Their societies, termed Mississippian, were highly stratified. In addition to controlling long-distance trade in ritual objects and materials as diverse as marine shell, wood, copper, pottery, and stone, ceremonial leaders controlled the exchange of knowledge beyond, as well as within, the Southeast. The shared symbolism on art found at Mississippian and other ancient sites speaks to the broad dissemination of knowledge throughout the Woodlands and farther west.

George Heye’s Legacy: The Woodlands

Several of the pieces shown here were assembled by Clarence Bloomfield Moore, an amateur archeologist who excavated ancient Native sites in the Southeast from 1891 to 1918. When the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences sent Moore’s 35,000-piece collection to storage, Heye offered cash to bring the assemblage to New York and made an impassioned appeal. “I will do anything in the world to help along the transaction,” he told Moore. “I know positively this is the place for your magnificent collection, where it will be taken care of properly, will be of use to science, will not be neglected, and will be personally loved.”

When Heye’s people arrived to collect the objects, they encountered Harriet Wardle, the academy’s curator for archeology. Irate that Heye had arranged to spirit the collection to New York without her knowledge, Wardle resigned immediately. Heye considered the acquisition a great personal coup, but Wardle never forgave him or his associates. As one of Heye’s successors recalled, Wardle “never met a member of the Heye Foundation without a glitter in her eye and a tightening of her lips.” Click here to read more...

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