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Games People Play: Prehistoric Games of Indigenous North Americans

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

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  • Acrobatic Games of Mesoamerica (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT Gerardo Gutierrez.

    In this paper I examine the context and performance of acrobatic games in Mesoamerica using archaeological, ethnohistorical, and ethnographic representations of contorsionists, tightrope walkers, equilibrists, dancers on stilts, jugglers, and participants in rotational devices, like the Palo Volador and the Huahua. I underline the importance of acrobatic games in ritual festivities and secular events where improvisational and professional performers staged spectacles and played tricks designed...

  • The Biggest Losers: Gambling and Enslavement in Native North America (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT Catherine Cameron. Lindsay Johansson.

    This paper explores an apparently common outcome of gambling among the indigenous inhabitants of North America – the enslavement of individuals who wagered themselves (or their family members) and lost. Archaeologists are becoming increasingly aware that slavery was not a post-contact phenomenon, but existed prehistorically in societies operating at a variety of socio-political scales from bands to states (Cameron 2008, 2011, in prep., Kohler and Turner 2006, Koziol 2012). Most captives were...

  • Ethnographer Stewart Culin and "Games of the North American Indians" (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT Barbara Voorhies.

    This talk appraises the contribution of Stewart Culin, a self-taught ethnographer, to the study of games of indigenous North Americans. His exhaustive survey, published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology, remains the single comprehensive resource for archaeologists seeking to examine games in the prehistoric record and as such is well exemplified by the presentations in this symposium. Culin’s study, initiated in collaboration with Frank Hamilton Cushing, began in 1891 in connection...

  • "He must die unless the whole country shall play crosse:" the Role of Gaming in Great Lakes Indigenous Societies (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT Ronald Williamson. Martin Cooper.

    Lacrosse, Canada’s national sport, originated with the pre-contact racket and ball games of the Iroquoian and Anishinaabeg peoples of northeastern North America. Like many traditional Indigenous games, racket and snow snake events represented much more than sport, involving aspects of physical prowess, warfare, prestige, gambling, dreaming, curing, mourning and shamanism. Gambling, in particular, was an important cultural activity that according to seventeenth century accounts, resulted in...

  • In the Fields of the Thunder Lord, Playing the Apalachee Ball Game: Archaeological and Ideological Evidence for Its Antiquity (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT John Stauffer. Kent Reilly.

    This presentation examines the archaeology, folklore, and iconography attesting to the antiquity of the Apalachee Ball Game. We will examine the "Apalachee Ball Game Myth" as recorded by Friar Juan Paina in 1670 as well as several Mississippian carved shell objects (ca. AD 1350, Craig Mound, Spiro, Okla.) that thematically express episodes in this myth. From the evidence gleaned from these several sources we can demonstrate that the ideology underlying the Apalachees’ Ball Game dates from at...

  • Influences of Gaming on Mi'kmaq Culture During the Late Woodland Period (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT Kevin Leonard.

    About A.D. 1320, the bones of ten people were cremated in an ossuary on Canada's east coast. Grave offerings recovered from the eroding site in 1990-91 included fragments of tiny, calcined bone rods and charred plum pits with smoothed surfaces. They are interpreted as parts of a gaming set that probably included a shallow wooden bowl and a small bag to hold the dice, still used by members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation to play waltes. Although game sets were traditionally a woman’s property, 17th...

  • It's Alive: Gambling, Animatism, and Divination Among the Aztecs (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT Susan Evans.

    Gambling and divination both pit the hopes of the petitioner against an uncertain future outcome. Popular for millennia, they seem to inhabit distinct spheres of interest, secular and spiritual, but overlap as the individual tries to assess the odds and garner available forces of knowledge, luck, or patronage of the spirits. In Aztec culture, this overlap linked the spiritual realm of divination and the base entertainment presented by gambling (which they regarded as dissolute, though common). ...

  • Mimbres Games, Gambling and Gods (2015)
    DOCUMENT Steve Swanson.

    This paper reviews the archaeological evidence for the presence of games played by the prehistoric inhabitants of the Mimbres region in the US Southwest/Northwest Mexico, emphasizing perishable materials recovered from cave/rock shelter deposits and iconic imagery present on Mimbres ceramic vessels. He compares the archaeological evidence with ethnographic information for gaming and gaming-related activities among Western Puebloan groups. Gaming and gambling among the ethnohistoric Hopi, Zuni...

  • Mobility, Exchange, and the Fluency of Games: Promontory in a Broader Sociodemographic Setting (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT John Ives. Gabriel Yanicki.

    We are currently undertaking new investigations of the Promontory Cave 1 and 2 (Great Salt Lake, Utah) collections Julian Steward excavated in the 1930s along with renewed excavations in both caves to explore Steward’s suspicion that these AD 13th century assemblages were created by migrating ancestral Apacheans. Artifacts for gaming are richly represented, including a ball, hoops, feathered darts, cane, wooden, and beaver tooth dice, and markers or counting sticks; a guessing game using buried...

  • Reinventing the Wheel Game: Intergroup Trade on the Plains/Plateau Frontier (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT Gabriel Yanicki.

    In Piikáni oral tradition, the namesake of southern Alberta’s Oldman River is a place in the Rocky Mountains where Napi, or Old Man, taught the various nations how to play itsewah (lit. ‘wheel game’) as a way of making peace. In the centuries since, travellers, adventurers, and scholars have recorded several accounts of Old Man’s Playing Ground and of the hoop-and-arrow game that was played there; this gaming tradition is shared by peoples on either side of the continental divide, with gambling...

  • Ritual and Divination in Ancient Maya Dice Games (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT John Walden.

    In this presentation I examine the dice games played by the ancient Maya and investigate the interpretation proposed by several Mayanists that these games were used primarily for divinatory purposes. I examine the archaeological contexts of these ‘patolli’ boards and review the substantial body of ethno-historical and ethnographic material from broader Mesoamerican contexts in order to scrutinize the interpretation that these games served as divinatory devices and to offer other interpretations...

  • Rock and Roles: The Chunkey Experience in the Mississippian World (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT Thomas Zych.

    Games have the ability to change the course of relationships between people, whether through direct engagement as participants or spectators. This paper explores the peripatetic nature of the pre-contact Chunkey game and its role in the initial and sustained spread of Middle Mississippian lifeways from the greater Cahokia region near modern day St. Louis, beginning around A.D. 1050. While Middle Mississippian culture quickly spread throughout the midcontinent at this time, the Chunkey game...

  • Sport and Ritual as Social Bonding: The Communal Nature of Mesoamerican Ballgames (2015)
    Citation DOCUMENT David S. Anderson. Marijke Stoll.

    For over a century, the Mesoamerican ballgame has received copious attention in the academic literature. Much of this attention, however, has focused on either the control and promulgation of the game by elite actors, or the game’s interconnections with indigenous cosmogonies. Because of this intense focus on the game as elite and/or ritual practice, we often lose sight of the communal role it may have held. Anthropological research into the cultural role of sport suggests that while sport...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America