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Images from The Graese Gallery

Turtle Shell Dance Rattle, Iroquois Nation,
Northeastern North America, late 19th century

Click on images below to see larger images

Turtle shell dance rattle, Iroquois Nation, late 19th century Back of rattle

NMM 11540.  Turtle shell dance rattle, Iroquois Nation, Northeastern North America, late 19th century. Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentine) resonator with deer tibia handle. Small vertebrae lashed to shell sound along with contents of rattle, typically corn or small stones. In the Iroquois tradition, the turtle is a symbol of creation and life. According to oral tradition, the turtle came from a place below the earth. On its journey to the surface, animals sprang from the mud and clung to the turtle’s back. Rattles like this are played in Iroquois longhouses by beating them on the edge of wooden benches. Paul and Jean Christian Collection, St. Paul, 2006.

Additional Views of Rattle

Front of rattle


Detail of side seam

Lashing (front)

Neck heel

Lashing (back)


Lashing (lower end)

Close-up of animal vertebrae


Back of rattle


Close-up of animal vertebrae

Animal Vertebrae

A stick handle, inserted into marrow canal of deer tibia and passed between the carapace (top shell of turtle) and an animal skin membrane (turtle plastron removed), is secured to rattle body with rawhide lashing. Several vertebrae (from a small mammal), feathers (traditionally from a bird of prey), and horse hair are attached to rawhide lashing at lower end of rattle.

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