Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Length: 113.000 cm
Room 26: North America
Crow, around AD 1900
From the American Plains, North America
Decorated with elk teeth and bone replacements
Crow women decorated wool dresses with elk teeth and carved bone replacements. The number of teeth no doubt indicates their husband's prowess in hunting, as each elk has only two canine teeth. The teeth also act as charms for longevity. Elk teeth were also used in gaming, as dice by women, and in the hand game, a game of concealment in which players guessed the whereabouts of the teeth. An elk-tooth dress would be presented by a man's parents to their daughter-in-law on marriage. Such dresses would be worn on special occasions, for instance when playing a polo-like game on horseback.
Plains dresses were originally made of animal skin. They were constructed of two rectangles side-sewn with straps, or alternatively, a single piece of skin, with a side fold. In the nineteenth century fuller dresses, preferable for use when riding, were constructed of two skins edge-to-edge, the deer tail uppermost. A third skin provided a cape-like shoulder-piece with long sleeves falling loosely over the arms.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)