During excavations at the Cater site, the Oxbow Archaeologists recovered two cups from cup-and-pin games. These two artifacts are associated with the Chippewa occupation of the Cater site. Identical artifacts have also been recovered from the contemporary Bellamy site in southern Ontario (Neal Ferris et al., "Bellamy: A Late Historic Ojibwa Habitation," Ontario Archaeology 44 (1985), pages 8-10).
Below, Oxbow Archaeologist Dave Frurip describes this game (excerpted from The Cater Site: The Archaeology, History, Artifacts and Activities at this Early 19th Century Midland County Site -- see our PUBLICATIONS).
STABBING A HOLLOW BONE
by David Frurip
One day, one of the bones we found told us a different part of the story about the lives of the Chippewa Indians who lived at the Cater site in the early 19th century. The midden we had been excavating for a couple of years is essentially a layer of trash approximately eight inches thick. It contains many bones, the remnants of meals eaten long ago. These bones tell us a lot about the lives of the people who lived at the site, both the settlers in the 1840's and the Native Americans a few decades earlier. Identification of the bones is somewhat difficult to the untrained eye but through the help of workshops presented by our official faunal analyst, Dr. Terry Martin, many in the group have been able to identify at least some of the bones as we pull them from the soil or as we wash them in the lab. One day in the lab, we had an exciting discovery of a different kind.
It was, by all appearances just another of the hundreds of bones we would wash that day (see picture above). But this one was different. It looked like many deer toe bones we had seen in the past, but this one was hollowed out for some reason. There were other small holes in the piece, along with some markings. Luckily, the diligent Oxbow member who was washing it asked our archaeological mentor, Scott Beld, about it and he recognized it immediately as a piece from a Chippewa game!
A little research turned up the following description of the Chippewa game Pe-peng-gun-e-gun , or "stabbing a hollow bone" from Culin, Games of the North American Indians (Dover, N.Y., 1975; a reprint of the original 1903 publication), page 534:
"It consists of seven conical bones strung on a leather thong about 8 inches long, which has fastened to it on one end a small piece of fur and at the other a hickory pin 3 1/2 inches long. The game was played by catching the pin near the head, swinging the bones upwards, and trying to insert the point of the pin into one of them before they descended. Each bone is said to have possessed a value of its own; the highest value being placed on the lowest bone, or the one nearest to the hand in playing. This bone has also three holes near the wide end, and to insert the pin into any of these entitled the player to an extra number of points. Above each hole is a series of notches numbering respectively 4, 6, and 9, which were, presumably, the value attached..."
We have since recovered another of these gaming pieces from the midden (see picture below). Since both pieces have the holes and tally marks present, we presume that we have found at least two different games. The two pieces we found have the following (approximate) number of tally marks: 5, 9, & 29 and 1, 4, & 10.
After looking at Culin's book a bit more, it is apparent that this game and many similar games were played by the vast majority of tribes in North America. We also found this interesting description of similar games on the web: http://www.nativetech.org/games/ring&pin.html.
These artifacts add to our understanding of the leisure activities at this Native American site in the early nineteenth century.
Oxbow Archaeologists Marianne and Alex McKelvy made the replica of a cup-and-pin game shown in the photograph below for the Oxbow Archaeologist's 2005 display at the Midland Center for the Arts.
Copyright © 2005 Chippewa Nature Center and the Oxbow Archaeologists