The Story of The Camden “Vase”
By George Chamberlain
The story of one of the interesting pieces of Indian pottery so far found in Minnesota begins with the early life of a pioneer school girl in Lyon County, Minnesota. This country is in the southwestern part of the state in which the famous pipestone quarries are located.
It was many years later that this girl, then Mrs. Isaac Elliot, mentioned to the writer how she and her sister used an Indian mound known as “The Knob” as a landmark when they walked to school which was in the town of Lynd five miles from their home. Due to the lapse of many years since she had last seen it Mrs. Elliot’s directions as to the location of the mound were insufficient for searching parties to find it. However, in 1934 it was located by a surveying party and plans were made to explore this ancient relic of the past.
This was done R.A. Skoglund, landscape architect at Camden State Park, W.C. Peterson of the Lyon County Historical Society, and the writer. After some fruitless excavating a jumbled mass of human bones was found near the center of the mound about 4 feet below the top. The disturbed condition of the bones was apparently due to the mound having been used as a den by wild animals, very likely wolves, which were later dug out by hunters. Where the earth had been disturbed it was easily removed but elsewhere it was quite hard. It was while removing this hard earth with pocket knives that the bowl, known to many as the Camden “Vase” was brought to light. When found the bowl was resting almost within one of the bony hand of the accompanying skeletal remains. This was evidently the position in which it was buried as this portion of the mound had not been disturbed. From the juxtaposition of the bowl and hand on might assume that there was some special association between it and the person buried in the mound.
The bowl is not large being 3 ¼ inches high and 5 inches in diameter at the widest part. The fine condition of the bowl is unusual since few pieces of entire, or only slightly damaged, Indian pottery have been found in Minnesota. With the exception of a piece about 2 inches square broken from the rim the bowl is complete. Careful search was made for the missing piece in the mound without success so it appears likely that the bowl was damaged previous to burial.
While the pottery made by the “Woodland” prehistoric inhabitants of Minnesota was composed of clay mixed with sand or crushed rock, the Camden bowl is tempered with crushed mollusk shells. It is decorated by a row of projections around the middle which were apparently made by pinching up the clay, while still in a plastic condition, with the fingers to give a sort of “pie crust” effect. Above this there is a band of geometrical designs in deep trailed lines which are shown in the accompanying illustration. The pot has two handles, and there are three slots in the rim, two vertical and one horizontal. These slots (whose purpose is problematical) the handles through which thongs could be placed for suspension of the vessel, the shell tempering, the trailed line triangular designs and the excellence of the workmanship set the Camden bowl apart from the usual run of Northern Minnesota pottery. These are characteristics similar to the “Oneota aspect, upper phase of the Mississippi pattern” found in southeastern Minnesota and ascribed to the Chiwere Siouan stock.
While it is impossible to determine the name of the tribe that made the bowl its characteristics are those of pottery made by a people in the middle Mississippi cultural stage. It has been so classified by Dr. A.E. Jenks, University of Minnesota anthropologist, who estimates the bowl to be somewhere between 500 and 1000 years old.
Since examples of this type of pottery are rarely, if ever, found north of where the Camden bowl was found, and Fairfax, Minnesota, where a somewhat similar though less well made vessel was discovered, it may be that these places mark the northernmost migration limits of the wanderings of the tribe making these ceramic objects.