August 27, 2015: Muskrat Skin Pouch
Dorsal and Ventral View of Muskrat Bag

August 27, 2015: Muskrat Skin Pouch

Artifact of the Week: Muskrat Skin Pouch

41 x 11.5 cm (without attachments)
Collected by C.H. Merriam. Possibly Northern Plains in origin.

“Oh. Wow. That’s an interesting…bag you got there?”

Why thank you. This skin pouch is made from a muskrat skin. An entire muskrat skin. Collected by Clinton Hart Merriam, his description of the artifact reads as follows:

“Pouch is made of the dehaired skin of a muskrat, hair side out. Head, feet, and a portion of the tail are attached. The mouth and a slit in the neck serve as the opening. The slit is edged and strengthened by a triangular insert of buckskin. The opening is gathered by a hide thong. Pouch is lined with cotton cloth. Dangles are attached to all four feet, consisting of a looped hide thong at each foot that has two porcupine quill wrapped ends to which a tin cone is attached. Porcupine quills are undyed, dyed red, and dyed yellow.

There is a circular insert of the same skin at the back, below the head, that is 9.5 cm in diameter, stitched in with sinew.”

Native repairs on the artifact include the round insert on the back and a five-centimeter-long sinew stitched seam in the right hind leg, showing that this bag was used. Bags made from the full skins of animals were not uncommon among the native peoples of the Northern Great Plains, and depending on the type, could have been used as medicine bags or as berry collecting bags.

This particular bag, with its ornamentation, resembles a type of medicine bag documented by Swiss artist Karl Bodmer, who was recruited by Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian to document the natural and cultural worlds of North America on an expedition led by the prince himself from 1832-1834.

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