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Material Culture

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The Modoc used stone mortars and pestles for processing plant and animal foods. "Most large mortars were made of vesicular lava but many small one ... were of a much lighter and more porous volcanic material" (Howe 52). The Modoc also utilized a distinctive two-horned milling stone (muller) to hull wokas seeds (Kroeber 324). They also produced stone lamps, which they used with salmon oil to light their dark winter homes (Howe 145)

Photograph of two-horned muller courtesy of California Indian Library Collections
Two-horned Muller
Photo courtesy of California Indian Library Collections

Both bolas and ATLATLS were used in hunting prior to the introduction of the bow and arrow about 1200 to 1600 years ago (Howe 55). Arrowheads were made of wood and obsidian (Howe 57).

Women were responsible for making baskets and cordage, and they tanned hides, which they used in making clothes. Men made nets, and tools from wood, bone, and stone (Stern 453).

Modoc women constructed a variety of baskets for transporting preparation and storage of foods. They also made baby cradles and basketry caps. The twined baskets were woven of tule, cattails and porcupine quills (Stern 450).

Photograph of Modoc basket courtesy of California Indian Library Collections
Modoc Basket
Photo courtesy of California Indian Library Collections

The Modoc used canoes made of pine, fir or cedar, which they hollowed out using fire. They fashioned two types of canoe: a large canoe, "vunsh", suitable for open water navigation which was paddled and could hold four or five people; and a smaller canoe, "vunshaga", which held two people and was propelled by poling. The "vunshaga" was used for "gathering wocas seeds, duck eggs and basketry materials in places the larger canoe could not be maneuvered" (Howe 153-154).

Winter lodges were earth-covered circular pits (about 22' across, 4' deep). The entrance was through an opening in the roof or by way of an east-facing (land of the dead was to the west) ramp, steps or doorways (Grayson 249).

The wickiup, another kind of structure, popular in summer was dome shaped, "built on a frame of bowed willows", and covered with mats. Wickiups could be as large as 10 feet in diameter, but were usually smaller. The wickiups were used a summer homes, kitchens, during menstruation and childbirth, and for the elderly who might not be able to negotiate the ladders used to enter the subterranean earth lodges (Stern 451).

Men's clothing consisted of shirts and leggings made of deerskin, and the women wore a "full gown" (Kroeber 326-327). The wealthy Modoc wore robes made of elk, bobcat or puma, while the commoner's robes were fashioned from rabbit or bird skins. Buckskin moccasins were worn in summer, while tule moccasins were typically worn during the cold winter months. Women wore woven basket caps (Stern 451).


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