The Potluck: A Native American Thanksgiving Tradition?

We’ve all been to one, some of us probably feeling slightly jaded about being pressured to contribute a dish that will surely be outdone by that one magnificent chef that attends every celebration. But where does the tradition of the potluck come from?

A common myth is that the word derives from the Potlatch feasts practiced by Native American Societies in the Pacific Northwest. But according to most dictionaries, the term originated in 16th Century England, to describe unplanned meetings in which you would eat whatever was available, perhaps leftovers from a previous meal warmed up in a pot. If you were hungry, you would have the “luck of the pot”.

Of course, this is not how the term is used today in the United States. For us, a potluck is a planned event in which all of the guests are expected to contribute a dish. This different application of the term is often attributed to Native American influence. After all, potlatches were similar in that the hosts would invite guests to a potlatch and provide them with food, with the expectation that some guests—the elite ones—would reciprocate the act by holding their own celebration at a later date.

potlatch3

Fishing utensils and serving dishes used by the Kwakuitl People

The potlatch served two purposes, one was to provide the host with an opportunity to show off their wealth and status, while the other was to help determine trade relationships and hierarchies between different settlements. You know that one person who tries to out-do everyone else with an elaborate dish? Well, that’s kind of how potlatches worked. The more elaborate the celebration, the greater prestige it brought to the host.

In many cases these displays could take a much more deliberate form than a little over-achieving. For example, in our McGovern Hall of the Americas we have beautiful sets of masks and capes. These costumes were worn during dance rituals at potlatches. The right to wear these garments was inherited though, so participating in the dances was a way of showing off your status in society. Chieftain (or “Tribal”) societies are not egalitarian, and the complex fishing societies of the Pacific Northwest had strict social hierarchies that were reinforced by these rituals. Hierarchies were so strict that in many cases one had to choose their spouse from a particular, high ranking family, like how it was in medieval Europe.

potlatch4

Kwakuitl ceremonial dance ensemble.

Probably the most interesting form of gaining prestige was the breaking of coppers. Coppers are little flat, shield-shaped pieces of hammered copper, that acted almost like currency. Only the highest ranking members of settlements could own them, and they were extremely valuable, but their value was purely symbolic. Coppers would be traded during potlatches, sometimes enormous quantities of goods would be traded for a single copper. If a chief felt that another chief had dishonored him, he might break a piece off of his own copper in the presence of his guest. This was a great challenge, because the other chief would then be expected to hold his own potlatch and break a piece off of his own copper in reciprocity. If he could not do that, he would lose prestige.

Now, does anybody recognize this sort of mentality in some of the Thanksgiving dinners they go to? It’s perfectly normal for people to desire to be admired for all they have worked hard to accomplish, and sometimes family dinners provide a setting that seems appropriate for that. Rather than impressing other village leaders, though, they just want to impress those they love.

It is hard to say whether or not the American potluck tradition was really inspired by Native American feasts, because similar traditions are carried out all over the world. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

HMNS Weekly Happenings

Don’t forget that HMNS will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, however we will be open for extended hours (9:00am – 6:00pm) for the holiday weekend Friday, November 25 – Sunday, November 28!

turkey

 

 

And exciting news! For those of you who are fans of archaeology and need to get the family out of the house this week, we have an Ancient Egypt Double Feature!

 

Lecture – Applying Forensics to Archaeology by Andrew Shortland

‘Courtesy The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology UCL, UC59288’

‘Courtesy The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology UCL, UC59288’

 

Tickets $18, Members $12

Monday, November 21, 2016 – 6:30 PM

As an Egyptologist trained in geological sciences, Dr. Andrew Shortland became interested in applying scientific analysis to the identification and interpretation of material culture from the ancient and historical worlds. Today Shortland uses the latest technology to answer questions about valuable or historically important objects. Typically these involve queries about provenance, date, identification of past restoration or conservation—and even the detection of deliberate fakes and forgeries.

 

Using examples from his cases, Professor Shortland will describe a wide variety of different analytical techniques in his work including SEM-EDS, microprobe, XSRF, LA-ICPMS and optical microscopy.

 

Dr. Andrew Shortland is professor of archaeological science at Cranfield University in UK. He is Deputy Director of Cranfield Forensic Institute, where he runs a group that specializes in the application of scientific techniques to archaeological and forensic problems.

 

Lecture – The Ancient Egyptian Mummy: A Defense Against Tomb Robbery by Kara Cooney

Kara_Cooney_examines_Egyptian_coffin_

 

Members $12, Tickets $18

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 – 6:30 PM

During the turmoil of the Late Bronze age ancient Egypt suffered from extreme economic, political, and social instability like mass migrations, invasions of Sea Peoples and Libyans, and the loss of the Syria-Palestinian empire. How did wealthy, elite Egyptians negotiate between the circumstances of this chaotic time of political decentralization and repeated economic collapses and the powerful social demands for them to spend large amounts of their income on funerary materials that were displayed in burial ceremonies? During this period funerary arts like mummification reflect a variety of innovative and defensive strategies– particularly against tomb robbery and the desecration of human remains in the burial. Egyptologist Dr. Kara Cooney will explore how mummification defended the dead against both worldly and supernatural threats

 

HMNS Weekly Happenings

Take Two: Pocahontas (1995)

 

pocahontas
 
 
 

Friday, November 18 | 7:15 p.m. | Members: $4 | Tickets: $5

 81 min. – Animation/Adventure/Drama
An English soldier and the daughter of an Algonquin chief share a romance when English colonists invade seventeenth-century Virginia.
 
 

Lecture – Applying Forensics to Archaeology by Andrew Shortland

 

Courtesy The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology UCL, UC16725

Courtesy The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology UCL, UC16725

 

Monday, November 21, 2016 – 6:30 PM

Tickets $18, Members $12

As an Egyptologist trained in geological sciences, Dr. Andrew Shortland became interested in applying scientific analysis to the identification and interpretation of material culture from the ancient and historical worlds. Today Shortland uses the latest technology to answer questions about valuable or historically important objects. Typically these involve queries about provenance, date, identification of past restoration or conservation—and even the detection of deliberate fakes and forgeries.

 

Using examples from his cases, Professor Shortland will describe a wide variety of different analytical techniques in his work including SEM-EDS, microprobe, XSRF, LA-ICPMS and optical microscopy.

 

Dr. Andrew Shortland is professor of archaeological science at Cranfield University in UK. He is Deputy Director of Cranfield Forensic Institute, where he runs a group that specializes in the application of scientific techniques to archaeological and forensic problems.

 

Lecture – The Ancient Egyptian Mummy: A Defense Against Tomb Robbery by Kara Cooney

egypt3

 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 – 6:30 PM

Members $12, Tickets $18

During the turmoil of the Late Bronze age ancient Egypt suffered from extreme economic, political, and social instability like mass migrations, invasions of Sea Peoples and Libyans, and the loss of the Syria-Palestinian empire. How did wealthy, elite Egyptians negotiate between the circumstances of this chaotic time of political decentralization and repeated economic collapses and the powerful social demands for them to spend large amounts of their income on funerary materials that were displayed in burial ceremonies? During this period funerary arts like mummification reflect a variety of innovative and defensive strategies– particularly against tomb robbery and the desecration of human remains in the burial. Egyptologist Dr. Kara Cooney will explore how mummification defended the dead against both worldly and supernatural threats.

 

 

 

HMNS Weekly Happenings

Lecture – More than Genes: Predators, Parasites and Partners of the Human Body by Rob Dunn

2006 Frank Collins Leishmaniasis is transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies, injecting the infective stage (i.e., promastigotes) from their proboscis during blood meals.  Promastigotes that reach the puncture wound are phagocytized by macrophages ,and other types of mononuclear phagocytic cells, and inside these cells, transform into the tissue stage of the parasite (i.e., amastigotes), which multiply by simple division and proceed to infect other mononuclear phagocytic cells.  Parasite, host, and other factors affect whether the infection becomes symptomatic and whether cutaneous or visceral leishmaniasis results.  Sandflies become infected by ingesting infected cells during blood meals.  In sandflies, amastigotes transform into promastigotes, develop in the gut, (in the hindgut for leishmanial organisms in the Viannia subgenus; in the midgut for organisms in the Leishmania subgenus), and migrate to the proboscis. See PHIL 3400 for a diagram of this cycle.

2006
Frank Collins

A great deal of recent research has suggested that many modern health problems relate to recent changes in our gut microbes. As we have started to look at skin and the environment of our homes, it looks as though the changes in what we are exposed to and covered in externally may be equally as great.

 

We evolved in a wilderness of parasites, mutualists, and pathogens, but we no longer see ourselves as being part of nature and the broader community of life. In the name of progress and clean living, we scrub much of nature off our bodies; however, a host of species still cling to us and always will. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Join biologist and author Robert Dunn as we explore the influence these wild species have on our well-being and the world.

 

Dr. Robert Dunn is a biologist with the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University. His lab studies the species around us in our everyday lives, species we tend to think of us as well known. Most of those species are not well known and so there are many things to discover in your backyard, in your bedroom, or even on your roommate. Book signings of “The Wild Life of Our Bodies” and “Every Living Thing” following lecture.

 

This program is sponsored by The Leakey Foundation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 at 6:30pm

Tickets $18, Members $12

 

BTS – Mummies of the World: The Exhibition

shrunken-heads

 

Mummies of the World: The Exhibition presents a collection of mummies from Europe, South America and ancient Egypt-some 4,500 years old.

 

Go behind-the-scenes and learn about mummies and mummification through state-of-the-art multimedia, interactive stations and 3D animation, highlighting advances in the scientific methods used to study mummies, including computed tomography (CT), ancient DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating, all of which allows us to know who these mummified individuals were, where they came from and where they lived.

 

Among the mummies on display are the Vac Mummies, an entire mummified family from Hungary believed to have died from tuberculosis; the Burns Collection, a group of medical mummies used to teach anatomy in the early 19th century; an Egyptian priest named Nes-Hor who suffered from arthritis and a broken left hip; Egyptian animal mummies including a falcon, fish, dog and baby crocodile, many of which were deliberately preserved to accompany royals for eternity; and MUMAB, the first replication of Egyptian mummification done on a body in 2,800 years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 6:00pm

Members $22, Tickets $39

 

Take Two: Pocahontas

pocahontas

81 min. – Animation/Adventure/Drama
An English soldier and the daughter of an Algonquin chief share a romance when English colonists invade seventeenth-century Virginia.
 
 

 

Lecture – Applying Forensics to Archaeology by Andrew Shortland

egypt3

 

As an Egyptologist trained in geological sciences, Dr. Andrew Shortland became interested in applying scientific analysis to the identification and interpretation of material culture from the ancient and historical worlds. Today Shortland uses the latest technology to answer questions about valuable or historically important objects. Typically these involve queries about provenance, date, identification of past restoration or conservation—and even the detection of deliberate fakes and forgeries.

 

Using examples from his cases, Professor Shortland will describe a wide variety of different analytical techniques in his work including SEM-EDS, microprobe, XSRF, LA-ICPMS and optical microscopy.

 

Dr. Andrew Shortland is professor of archaeological science at Cranfield University in UK. He is Deputy Director of Cranfield Forensic Institute, where he runs a group that specializes in the application of scientific techniques to archaeological and forensic problems.

 

Tickets $18, Members $12