"Dear, Honored Guest": Archaeological Models of Bear Ceremonialism in Minnesota

Author(s): David Mather

Year: 2017


Archaeological expressions of bear ceremonialism in Minnesota include: ritual sites with dozens to hundreds of bear skulls, calcined fragments of burned bear paws, effigy earthworks, rock art and portable art. These were created by Siouan and Algonquian speaking peoples, including the Dakota and Ojibwe, who are still resident in the state. Some finds relate to the bear hunt, feast and funeral that are the focus of A. Irving Hallowell’s (1926) concept of bear ceremonialism. Others appear to represent rituals that are not documented in the ethnographic literature. Modeling, or connecting archaeological data with abstract theories, is used here to explore and interpret possible practices of bear ceremonialism in the state. Data sources include accounts of Minnesota bear ceremonialism from tribal elders and cultural anthropologists, archaeological contexts, artifacts and zooarchaeological analyses, and bear biology including comparative measurements of modern bear teeth of known age/sex to compare with archaeological materials. Resulting models include the concepts of bear graves and secondary burials, and seasonal connections between different types of rituals practiced by related groups, within and beyond the scope of Hallowell’s bear ceremonialism.

Cite this Record

"Dear, Honored Guest": Archaeological Models of Bear Ceremonialism in Minnesota. David Mather. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431209)


Geographic Keywords
North America - Midwest

Spatial Coverage

min long: -104.634; min lat: 36.739 ; max long: -80.64; max lat: 49.153 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14476