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Drawing with Great Needles

Drawing with Great Needles
Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America

Leading authorities provide the first state-of-the-art study of the history, meaning, and significance of Native American tattooing in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains.

November 2013
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311 pages | 6 x 9 | 75 photos, 35 line art, 1 map, 2 tables |

For thousands of years, Native Americans throughout the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains used the physical act and visual language of tattooing to construct and reinforce the identity of individuals and their place within society and the cosmos. The act of tattooing served as a rite of passage and supplication, while the composition and use of ancestral tattoo bundles was intimately related to group identity. The resulting symbols and imagery inscribed on the body held important social, civil, military, and ritual connotations within Native American society. Yet despite the cultural importance that tattooing held for prehistoric and early historic Native Americans, modern scholars have only recently begun to consider the implications of ancient Native American tattooing and assign tattooed symbols the same significance as imagery inscribed on pottery, shell, copper, and stone.

Drawing with Great Needles is the first book-length scholarly examination into the antiquity, meaning, and significance of Native American tattooing in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains. The contributors use a variety of approaches, including ethnohistorical and ethnographic accounts, ancient art, evidence of tattooing in the archaeological record, historic portraiture, tattoo tools and toolkits, gender roles, and the meanings that specific tattoos held for Dhegiha Sioux and other Native speakers, to examine Native American tattoo traditions. Their findings add an important new dimension to our understanding of ancient and early historic Native American society in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains.




Carol Diaz-Granados and Aaron Deter-Wolf

1. Native American Tattooing in the Protohistoric Southeast

Antoinette B. Wallace

2. Needle in a Haystack: Examining the Archaeological Evidence for Prehistoric Tattooing

Aaron Deter-Wolf

3. Swift Creek Paddle Designs as Tattoos: Ethnographic Insights on Prehistoric Body Decoration and Material Culture

Benjamin A. Steere

4. Tattoos, Totem Marks, and War Clubs: Projecting Power through Visual Symbolism in Northern Woodlands Culture

Lars Krutak

5. The Art of Enchantment: Corporeal Marking and Tattooing Bundles of the Great Plains

Lars Krutak

6. Identifying the Face of the Sacred: Tattooing the Images of Gods and Heroes in the Art of the Mississippian Period

F. Kent Reilly III

7. Dhegihan Tattoos: Markings That Consecrate, Empower, and Designate Lineage

James R. Duncan

8. Snaring Life from the Stars and the Sun: Mississippian Tattooing and the Enduring Cycle of Life and Death

David H. Dye





Aaron Deter-Wolf is a prehistoric archaeologist with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and an adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Middle Tennessee State University.

Carol Diaz-Granados is a research associate in the Department of Anthropology at Washington University, where she has taught for 32 years.