Birch Toy Cradle

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

TROUGH-SHAPED CRADLE OF BIRCH-BARK MADE OF THREE PIECES, THE BOTTOM, THE TOP AND HOOD, AND THE AWNING PIECE. THE TWO PARTS CONSTITUTING THE BODY OF THE CRADLE OVERLAP IN AN INCH AND A HALF AND ARE SEWN TOGETHER WITH A SINGLE BASTING OF PINE ROOT, WITH STITCHES HALF AN INCH APART. AROUND THE BODY JUST UNDER THE MARGIN, AND CONTINUOUSLY AROUND THE BORDER OF THE HOOD AND AWNING LIES A ROD OF OSIER. A STRIP OF BIRCH BARK LAID ON THE UPPER SIDE OF THE MARGIN SERVES AS A STIFFENER AND IS SEWN DOWN BY AN INGENIOUS BASTING WITH STITCHES AN INCH OR MORE LONG WHICH PASS DOWN THROUGH TWO THICKNESSES OF BIRCH-BARK, AROUND THE OSIER TWIG JUST BELOW THE MARGIN, AND UP AGAIN THROUGH THE TWO THICKNESSES OF BIRCH-BARK BY ANOTHER OPENING TO FORM THE NEXT STITCH. THE HOOD IS FORMED BY PUCKERING THE BIRCH-BARK AFTER THE MANNER OF A GROCERS BAG. THE BORDERING OSIER IS NEATLY SEIZED TO THE EDGE OF THE HOOD AND AWNING BY A COIL OF SPLIT SPRUCE ROOT. ROWS OF BEADS OF MANY COLORS ADORN THE AWNING PIECE. IN A COUNTRY INTOLERABLE BY REASON OF THE MESQUITOES IT IS NOT STRANGE THAT PROVISIONS FOR SUSTAINING SOME SORT OF NETTING SHOULD BE DEVISED. ILLUS. IN NAT. MUS. REPT 1887, FIG. 4, P. 167."CONT. SEE CARD. Source of the information below: Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center Alaska Native Collections: Sharing Knowledge website, by Aron Crowell, entry on this artifact http://alaska.si.edu/record.asp?id=62 , retrieved 8-19-2012: The carrying cradle was important in a mobile culture where families traveled by foot, snowshoe, dogsled, toboggan, and canoe throughout much of the year. A very young child would ride on his mother's back, under her parka or wrapped in a blanket and supported underneath by a baby strap (see E238534). Slightly older children rode seated in a birch bark carrier, facing backwards or to the side; sometimes the baby strap was used in combination with the carrier, to help hold it up.(1) This model carrier from the Koyukon village of Nulato shows the construction-a straight back, bowl-shaped seat, and vertical tongue (pommel) in front that went up between the child's legs. Two leather straps also helped to keep her securely inside. The child wore fur pants that were cut away in the back, and moss or caribou hair were placed underneath to act as diaper.(2) Osgood mentions that ashes were also used for this purpose (Deg Hit'an).(3) Bark carrying cradles were used by many Athabascan peoples of western Canada and eastern Alaska including the Ahtna, Dena'ina, Koyukon, Gwich'in, Ingalik, Han, and Tanana.(4) Deg Hit'an birch bark cradles were not designed for carrying; instead a blanket and baby strap were used.(5) It was considered very bad luck to make a cradle or other things for a child before it was born, because this might cause its death.(6) 1. Duncan and Carney 1997:58; McKennan 1959:88; Osgood 1936:44 2. McKennan 1965:41; Osgood 1936:44 3. Osgood 1940:282 4. Allen 1985:266; Clark 1974:137; DeLaguna 1981:649; McKennan 1959:88-89, 1965:41; Murray 1910:86; Osgood 1936:44, 1937:50; Slobodin 1981:520; Whymper 1868:205-206 5. Osgood 1940:282 6. Carlo 1978:25; Osgood 1959:138 This object is on loan to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, from 2010 through 2017.

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  • Title: Birch Toy Cradle
  • Location: Nulato, Yukon River, Alaska, United States, North America
  • Type: Birch Toy Cradle
  • Rights: This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws. http://www.si.edu/termsofuse
  • External Link: View this object record in the Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center
  • USNM Catalog Number(s): E32986-0
  • Photo Credit: Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
  • Field: Anthropology
  • Accession Date: 1878-11-01