Emmons Rattle Mask

Image of Emmons rattle mask
Image of Emmons rattle mask
One-of-a-kind object provides window into ceremonial, spiritual life

When people see the Emmons rattle mask for the first time, they are in for a surprise. Like meeting a celebrity in person, this famous object is definitely not as tall as imagined. That’s because the mask is not really a mask at all but a ceremonial object smaller than a man’s hand, about five-and-a-half inches high. It was probably a rattle, with beans or pebbles secured to the back to make the rattling sound. Found in Fulton County, the Emmons rattle mask, which dates from the Middle Mississippian Period about 800 years ago, is extremely rare. There has been nothing else like it found in Illinois or elsewhere. Because it is made of wood, probably cedar, the odds of such an object surviving so long are extremely low.

In the close-up photo, you can see the “weeping eye” motif painted on the wood with Galena ore (lead) paint. This decoration may not represent tears but rather the malar stripe found on the face of the Peregrine Falcon and its relatives. The malar stripe is a long, dark marking on the face that resembles long sideburns. Warriors revered the falcon for its speed and hunting prowess, and the malar stripe appears elsewhere in the archaeological record.

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