Anthropology, Department of



Petra Eccarius

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Published in Nebraska Anthropologist Vol. 14 (1997-1999). Copyright © Petra Eccarius; published by The University of Nebraska-Lincoln AnthroGroup.


Native Americans of the Great Plains did not have a formal system of writing. These groups did, however, have various types of graphical representation. One such example is the Siouan winter counts, pictures recorded once each winter on buffalo hide (or later on cloth) which served as mnemonic devices for a partial oral history and calendar of the group to which it belonged. Scholars often study the subject matter of these counts in order to gain historic or cultural information about Native groups. Despite the facts that only one important or unusual event is depicted each year, and that the accompanying verbal interpretations can be fraught with complications, these records, along with the phrases memorized and passed down with them, have proven useful in this pursuit However, the purpose of this paper is not to explore the historic significance of these counts, but rather to examine their pictures as symbols of those events. It is this researcher's contention that the pictures used in many of the Siouan winter counts share important characteristics with the precursors of established writing systems, and therefore, could have been precursors to writing.

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