Museum Director William Fash announced today that a rare Native
American bear-claw necklace acquired by Meriwether Lewis and William
Clark during their epic exploration of the American West, 1804-1806,
was discovered in a storage room at the Peabody Museum.
at the Peabody feels a sense of awe at the power and beauty of this
object, and great satisfaction that it will once again be available
to enlighten us all about the world from whence it came."
of only a half-dozen surviving American Indian objects that can
be positively attributed to Lewis and Clark, the necklace had been
missing since it was first catalogued in 1899.
Borlaug, President, Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn,
North Dakota, and past-president, National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial
Council said of the new discovery:
would certainly be the most astounding discovery in some time-I
can't think of anything that would compare. Its wonderful to have
proof that the Lewis and Clark bicentennial really is a "voyage
of re-discovery" because there are still things to be discovered
200 years later."
necklace, probably given to the explorers by an Indian chief, was
discovered during a storage inventory on December 17, 2003. In remarkably
good condition, the necklace consists of thirty-eight bear claws,
each approximately 3 inches long, attached with rawhide thongs to
a fur foundation-possibly weasel. The claws were originally covered
with a red pigment, now largely worn away.
to Gaylord Torrence, curator of Native American art, Nelson Atkins
Museum of Art, Kansas City, and expert in early Native American
artifacts, "Bear claw necklaces, which relate to the bravery
and stature of warriors, were treasured by Indian people. They are
rare from any time period. The newly discovered bear claw necklace
acquired by Lewis and Clark is quite probably the earliest surviving
example in the world."
Ronda, preeminent scholar of western exploration at the University
of Tulsa, called the necklace "an absolutely extraordinary
find" and "one of the most significant object finds in
Gilman, curator of "Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial
Exhibit" noted that "Artifacts that can be positively
tied to Lewis and Clark are very rare
it is cause for celebration
when another one turns up."
Undonated, Returned, and Rediscovered
of the Native American objects acquired by Lewis and Clark were
given by them and by President Thomas Jefferson to the Peale Museum
in Philadelphia, at that time an unofficial national repository.
When the Peale Museum closed in 1848, the Lewis and Clark objects
were acquired by the Boston Museum, owned and operated by Moses
Kimball. In 1899, the Museum suffered severe damage in a fire and
was closed. The Kimball family donated 1,400 surviving objects to
the Peabody Museum at Harvard, including the Lewis and Clark expedition
artifacts. The Kimball family apparently changed their minds and
decided to keep the necklace rather than giving it to the Peabody,
which had already catalogued it and retained a Peale Museum label
1997, the Peabody Museum launched a new research project focused
on the artifacts known as the "Lewis and Clark Collection"
in anticipation of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. At that time,
Associate Curator Castle McLaughlin and collections staff conducted
an extensive search of the Peabody North American storage area in
search of the necklace, without result.
December 2004, Two collections assistants working in the Oceania
storerooms on an inventory and cataloguing project realized that
a necklace they were photographing was incorrectly identified as
Oceanic and notified the Collections Manager.
acquisition record for the misidentified object indicated that the
Kimball family had indeed retained it in 1899, but a descendent
then donated the necklace to the Peabody in 1941. At that time,
a staff member erroneously catalogued it as an artifact from the
South Pacific Islands, and thus it was "lost" in those
to go on Display Spring 2004
The necklace was found just weeks after the Peabody Museum opened
a new exhibit on the Lewis and Clark Indian artifacts "From
Nation to Nation: Re-examining Lewis and Clark's Indian Collection."
The Exhibit represents years of new research on the objects and
is accompanied by a definitive study of the complete Lewis and Clark
collection by curator Castle McLaughlin, titled, Arts of Diplomacy:
Lewis and Clark's Indian Collection." (University of Washington
Press and Peabody Museum press, 2003. The necklace will be added
to the Exhibit in spring 2004.
more informaiton on the Lewis and Clark Collection at the Peabody
Museum, visit http://www.peabody.harvard.edu/Lewis_and_Clark/