British Museum collections, £12.99
Purchased through the
AOA Ethno 2003.Am.19,4-5
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Antler wrist guards
From the Prairies or Plains, North
Before AD 1825
Wrist guards such as these are extremely rare but served a useful purpose. During archery, a bowman pulls the bow string taut then releases it to shoot the arrow, after which it slaps back, painfully catching the wrist. These bracelets may have been used by Plains people for protection, since similar items were used elsewhere in North America. One of the bands has a simple incised design along its edges. This may be purely decorative, but could also have had symbolic significance related to travelling or the hunt. The second band has an elegant scalloped edge and is engraved with a series of repeated patterns. The central line of circles, each with a triangle attached, could represent a line of tipis (Native American tents).
Both these wrist guards are made from thin, vertical strips of antler, which was (and still is) available to Plains people for a wide variety of uses. The bands were probably cut from immature antler, which is softer, and then shaped by boiling. Much of it was obtained from elk, also known as wapiti, the North American equivalent of the European red deer. The spongy interior of the antler absorbs pigment well, so could be used for creating paint-brush-like instruments for applying colour. At the time of European contact, antler was also used to make clubs, comb-like instruments and scrapers for the preparation of skin.
These wrist guards were brought to England by Brian Mullanphy in 1825, although the substantial wear on the insides of both suggests that they were made long before.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)