Rope Maker’s Reed

Bone shuttle and instruments for twine making - Plate 28
Bone shuttle and instruments for twine making – Plate 28

We can refer to no period of their traditions, when the Indian tribes were destitute of the art of making twine, and a small kind of rope. Although they had not the hemp plant, there were several species of shrubs spontaneously produced by the forest, from the inner bark of which they made these articles. They fabricated nets for fishing, which are referred to in their ancient oral tales. To tie sticks or bundles, is one of the oldest and simplest arts of mankind; and the verb to tie has, therefore, been selected by some philologists, as one of the primitives.12 It is, however, a compound, consisting of a tiling and an act, in all the Algonquin dialects known to us.

The process of twine and rope making, from the barky fibre of certain plants, it appears, was one connected with some kind of machinery. From the species of stone reed that is found in some of their tumuli, whose object was, to hold the strands or plies apart, it is probable that a wooden instrument, having the properties of a rope-maker s hand-windlass, was employed to twist them together. Yet if this was not done, and we have no evidence that it was, the reed would afford some facilities for hand twisting.

We have two remains of this instrument. The first was found in the upper vault of the great Grave Creek Mound. It is six inches in length, with two orifices for the twine, one and three-quarter inches apart, and tapering from the centre, where it is one and two-tenth inches broad, to half an inch at the ends. Thickness, three-tenths of an inch. Figs. 4 and 5, Plate 28, is a facsimile of it.

The material of this instrument, examined in the dim candlelight of the rotundo, which existed under this mound in 1844, could not be satisfactorily determined. It was of a limy whiteness, rather heavy, and easily cut. If a metal, covered deeply by a metallic oxide, which it resembled, that fact could not be determined without the application of tests, for which no opportunity was afforded.

The other specimen of this antique instrument before us (Figs. 2 and 3, Plate 28,) is two-tenths of an inch less than six inches in length, one and one-tenth wide in the middle, gently curving, to one and five-tenths at the ends. It has two orifices for the twine, half an inch apart. Thickness two-tenths of an inch, nearly. It consists of a piece of striped silicious slate. It is accurately carved. It was disclosed in one of the ancient but smaller mounds of the Grave Creek Flats.


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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