Native American Urn Burials
To close the subject of subterranean burial proper, the following account of urn-burial in Foster may be added:
It is with regret that the writer feels obliged to differ from the distinguished author of the work quoted regarding urn-burial, for notwithstanding that it has been employed by some of the Central and Southern American tribes, it is not believed to have been customary, but to a very limited extent, in North America, except as a secondary interment. He must admit that he himself has found bones in urns or ollas in the graves of New Mexico and California, but under circumstances that would seem to indicate a deposition long subsequent to death. In the graves of the ancient peoples of California a number of ollas were found in long used burying places, and it is probable that as the bones were dug up time and again for new burials they were simply tossed into pots, which were convenient receptacles, or it may have been that bodies
138were allowed to repose in the earth long enough for the fleshy parts to decay, and the bones were then collected, placed in urns, and reinterred. Dr. E. Foreman, of the Smithsonian Institution, furnishes the following account of urns used for burial:
I would call your attention to an earthenware burial-urn and cover, Nos. 27976 and 27977, National Museum, but very recently received from Mr. William McKinley, of Milledgeville, Ga. It was exhumed on his plantation, ten miles below that city, on the bottom lands of the Oconee River, now covered with almost impassible canebrakes, tall grasses, and briers. We had a few months ago from the same source one of the covers, of which the ornamentation was different but more entire. A portion of a similar cover has been received also from Chattanooga, Tenn. Mr. McKinley ascribes the use of these urns and covers to the Muscogees, a branch of the Creek Nation.
These urns are made of baked clay, and are shaped somewhat like the ordinary steatite ollas found in the California coast graves, but the bottoms instead of being round run down to a sharp apex; on the top was a cover, the upper part of which also terminated in an apex, and around the border, near where it rested on the edge of the vessel, are indented scroll ornamentations.
The burial urns of New Mexico are thus described by E. A. Barber:
Burial-urns *** comprise vessels or ollas without handles, for cremation, usually being from 10 to 15 inches in height, with broad, open mouths, and made of coarse clay, with a laminated exterior (partially or entirely ornamented). Frequently the indentations extend simply around the neck or rim, the lower portion being plain.
So far as is known, up to the present time no burial-urns have been found in North America resembling those discovered in Nicaragua by Dr. J. C. Bransford, U.S.N., but it is quite within the range of possibility that future researches in regions not far distant from that which he explored may reveal similar treasures. Figure 6 represents different forms of burial-urns, a, b, and e, after Foster, are from Laporte, Ind. f, after Foster, is from Greenup County, Kentucky; d is from Milledgeville, Ga., in Smithsonian collection, No. 27976; and c is one of the peculiar shoe-shaped urns brought from Ometepec Island, Lake Nicaragua, by Surgeon J. C. Bransford, U.S.N. Photos of American Indian Burials