Monday, 22 August 2011

Prehistoric Miss Americas

This article came from a scanned newspaper, so the photos that were attached were unusable. I have substituted in a couple of images from my resources. Sorry if they don't follow the story so well.

Prehistoric Miss Americas

Minnesota’s Murdered Flapper of 18000 B.C. and a Peruvian “Modern”

by A. Hyatt Verrill

The Sun Jan 22, 1933; The Baltimore Sun; researched and collected by Alan Schenker; digitized by Doug Frizzle August 2011.

TWENTY thousand years ago an American girl was murdered in Minnesota. And now, after a lapse of 200 centuries, a steam shovel digging into the bed of an ancient glacial lake to form a motor highway has revealed the crime by unearthing the skeleton of the victim.

To scientists the discovery of the bones of the slain girl is of immense interest and importance, for it proves—as I and others have contended—that human beings differing little from the Indians of today inhabited our continent in that exceedingly ancient time and were more cultured, more like modern men and women than the people of Europe of that period.

But the average person is far more interested in the human, personal side of the discovery. We wonder who that unfortunate young lady was, why she was struck down as she knelt to drink from the ice-cold waters of the lake, whether she was killed by a jealous lover or an enemy of her tribe. We speculate on whether she was as revolutionary in her ideas as the youth of today, if her actions and her attitude caused her elders to shake their heads and declare they didn't know what the world was coming to. We want to know how she lived, what were her recreations and her duties, what she ate and what she wore—for most assuredly a girl dwelling in Minnesota in the very shadows of mighty glaciers must have worn garments of some sort. Unfortunately, however, the clothing she wore when she was murdered has long since vanished, and only a few shell ornaments among the bones are mute evidences that she adorned herself with the jewelry of the period.


but if we cannot answer these questions regarding the 20,000-year-old flapper's costume and daily life, we know what other well-dressed American girls wore thousands of years ago, what they ate, how they lived and what their duties were.

Quite recently, when a fancy dress ball was held aboard a steamship northward bound from South America, one of the young lady passengers appeared in a lace gown, with a wrap of creamy lace about her shoulders. When asked what she represented, she replied "Old Lace." And quite appropriately she was awarded the first prize when she explained that both gown and wrap were at least 3,000 years old and had been found on the mummy of a pre-Incan girl in a burial mound in Peru—a girl who had lived and doubtless had flirted and loved and had died more than 1,000 years before the birth of Christ.

It may seem amazing, incredible, that delicate laces and textiles could endure for thirty centuries or more; but in the dry, nitrate-impregnated sands of the Peruvian deserts even the finest, most perishable objects remain perfectly preserved. The garments worn by the 3,000-year-old flapper, as well as the prized possessions interred with her were as perfect when I opened her tomb and lifted her from her grave as on the day when she had been placed within her niche in the great adobe brick burial mound.

Her gown, of old blue and brown lace with an overlaid drapery of old-ivory lace, would have been the envy of any modern debutante, while wrapped about her body and limbs were over thirty yards of cobwebby lace showing two distinct patterns.

Apparently women's ways have changed but little in thirty centuries, for buried with the lace-wrapped body was a hand mirror of polished marcasite with carved and inlaid frame and handle, and a beautifully woven vanity bag containing precisely the same utensils and toilet accessories as may be found within the handbag of any young woman today. To be sure, they were cruder and more primitive in design and workmanship, but doubtless they served their purposes well.


within a little container made from a seed-pod was the carmine paint for the girl's lips, together with a beautiful silver spatula for applying the color. Another receptacle made from a small gourd closed with a carved wooden stopper still contained a supply of fine tinted powder with a powder-puff made of soft yellow feathers. Still another container—or perhaps I should say compact—held rouge for the cheeks, with a wooden spatula for applying it. Then there was a curved bronze knife for trimming the young woman's nails, a tapered polished nailstick and a pair of silver tweezers obviously designed for removing superfluous hair. And like the handbag of any modern miss, that of the lace-clad girl of pre-Incan days held all sorts of odds and ends. There were silver and bronze pins, bone needles, hanks of thread, a little carved wooden spoon, a tiny fetish or idol or charm made of carved bone, a silver ring, some sea shells, a string of pearls with broken thread and a hair comb of cactus spines.


We usually think that plucked or shaved eyebrows are modern aids to beauty, but this Peruvian girl of 3,000 years ago had her eyebrows as archly shaved and plucked as any young woman of today. Moreover, she had bobbed hair, which was kept neat and in order by a hair net that was still in place. Her fingernails, even in death, showed that they had been tinted and polished. Moreover, she took equally good care of her toenails, for the Peruvian misses of thirty centuries ago were ignorant of silken lingerie and hosiery or even shoes; their little toes, projecting from their rope-soled sandals, were very much in evidence. But the care and attention necessary to keep their toenails attractive was perhaps offset by the fact that they were never troubled by runs in their stockings or corns and bunions on their feet.

Naturally, this beauty of the long dead past wore jewelry—she would not have been feminine if she hadn't. Hers was almost ultramodern in design. About her neck were strings of immense beads of jadeite and lapis lazuli. About her wrists and ankles were bands of embossed silver, and her fingers were covered with heavy gold and silver rings. But her earrings! No girl of today, with pendants dangling to her shoulders, could equal the ear ornaments of Miss Peru of 1000 B. C, who wore immense ear plugs of silver covered with turquoise and mother-of-pearl mosaic. About her forehead she wore a silver fillet covered with mosaic of turquoise and pink shell, and dangling from her pierced lower lip was an ornament of silver set with pearls. But do not imagine that because of all her finery she was merely an idle, pleasure-loving butterfly. There were neither shops, department stores nor modistes in Peru in her day; and while a girl might see fit to array herself in yards and yards of finest lace, all her finery was made by her own hands. And as all the utensils and articles used in life were buried with the dead, we know exactly how this lace-clad flapper employed her busy hours. We know that, unlike so many modem girls, she was a most accomplished and competent little person, highly skilled in the arts of weaving and embroidery, lace making and tapestry. Beside her mummified body enfolded in the many yards of lace were two hand looms, each with a section of partly woven cloth, one holding a piece of tapestry with its half completed embroidery. There were hanks of dyed woolen and cotton thread, knitting needles and a crochet hook.

Obviously death came suddenly and unexpectedly, for the weaving ended abruptly with the yarns of the last portions loosely in place and the final loop of embroidery thread ready to be drawn tight.


we even know what the industrious young lady ate in those far-distant days. Beside her body were the highly decorated plates, bowls and cups which she used in life, with earthen pots and carved calabashes, all containing food for her spirit. And despite the thousands of years that had passed since they were placed in the tomb, most of the viands had remained almost unchanged.

There were roasted peanuts and dried red peppers, sweet potatoes and corn, dried meat and fish, white potatoes and aromatic herbs for seasoning. One jar contained the remains of what once had been ciderlike chicha, thoughtfully provided that the girl's spirit might not thirst.

Why or how this lace-robed young woman died, what calamity or illness struck her down in the first flush of budding womanhood, no one can say. Unlike the Minnesota girl, who was murdered 17,000 years before the Peruvian girl was born, the latter's shrunken body showed no marks of violence or injury. Beneath her bobbed black hair with its painted parting the skull was intact and there was no wound visible anywhere. But pestilence stalked abroad through the land in her day, and jealousy burned as fiercely in the hearts of the pre-Incas as in hearts of men and women of the present time, Perhaps some fatal epidemic marked her for a victim or perchance some other flapper, jealous of her beauty, her lace gown or her lovers, may have resorted to poison to rid herself of a rival.

We can merely speculate on such matters. But we know what she wore, what she ate, how she employed her busy hands and how she beautified herself. And we know that she lived and died fully 3,000, years ago, for above her grave and the graves of her people are layers of other ancient burials, while over these are the tombs of the Chimus, and above these are the last resting places of the Incan people, who conquered the Chimus centuries before Pizarro first set foot on the shores of Peru.

And the mummies in these more recent but nevertheless vastly ancient graves show that feminine fashions and styles changed as greatly and as often in the America of the remote past as in the America of the present. The young lady of the lace gown was a Moujik and no doubt a reigning belle of her village. Perhaps she was even a princess or a noblewoman, and hence may have been the best-dressed woman of her day. Yet she would have been considered hopelessly out of style and a decided freak by the Incan girl whose mummy was taken from a grave in the ruined city of Cacamaquilla, near Lima.


the moujik girl had been resting in her niche for some ten or twelve centuries when the Inca maiden of Cacamaquilla was laid to rest in the immense burial mould of her people, and in the meantime women's fashions had swung from one extreme to another, just as they do today. And even if the styles did not emanate from Paris or London, the women were forced to follow the decrees of fashion set by a mere man, the Inca in Cuzco. There was a reason for the Inca taking upon himself the dictatorship of feminine apparel. It was essential that the inhabitants of each province and village might readily be recognized, and this was accomplished by means of distinctive styles and colors. Even today the custom persists, and the Women of each district wear a distinctive form of hat. It must have been a big job to design the countless fashions and color combinations for the women of the 20,000,000 inhabitants, and probably the Inca had officials—ministers of women's fashions, they might have been called—to attend to the matter.

However that may be, delicate lace gowns reaching to the wearers' ankles had no place in the Incan community with its hivelike industry and efficiency. Utility was all important and short skirts had come into vogue. That of the girl of Cacamaquilla was of dark-blue woolen cloth edged with orange. Across her shoulders she wore a square cape of orange and blue, with quite modernistic designs of conventionalized figures printed by wood blocks. Upon her head she wore a gay kerchief of finely woven cotton, and about her waist was a woven woolen belt with the ends worked in the form of human heads terminating in fringes.


as moccasinlike slippers of leather had replaced the rope-soled sandals of the Moujik girl, it was no longer necessary to waste time polishing and coloring her toenails, but her fingernails were carefully manicured and brilliantly vermillioned. Stockings were still unknown, but the Incan belle had felt that bare legs and arms should be beautified, for on the shrunken skin of the mummy an elaborate design in blue tattooing was still clearly defined. And even if she wore no hosiery she had her garters—woven of wool in geometrical patterns and fringed with tiny silver bells and scarlet and black feathers—which were worn below her knees, where their beauty would not be wasted.

Though the Inca might decree what his female subjects wore in the way of dress, neither Inca nor law could control feminine love of finery and personal adornment. Miss Inca of 10 A. D. or thereabouts was as fond of jewelry as Miss Moujik of 1000 B. C. or Miss America of 1033. She was fairly loaded with necklaces of mother-of-pearl, agate, lapis lazuli, amethyst, turquoise, silver and painted earthenware beads. There were strings of bright-colored seashells, oddly shaped seeds and little cylinders of bone tipped with gaudy feathers.

To protect her from evil spirits and other dangers—and no doubt to serve as love charms as well—there was a string of fetishes or talismen—little grotesque human figures, birds, beasts and fishes carved of bone, shell and jadeite. About her arms and ankles were broad silver bands. Her fingers were covered with silver, bronze and bone rings, and in her ears were huge disks of chased silver.

The kerchief on her head was secured by a silver band with silver bangles and her blouse and cape were fastened with immense silver pins set with turquoise and marcasite. But bobbed hair, plucked eyebrows, painted lips and rouged checks had gone completely out of fashion. In place of a dainty vanity bag containing lipsticks, powder puffs, rouge and hair pluckers, this Incan girl carried a netted bag attached to her belt and containing only useful articles—silver and bronze needles, hanks of colored thread of wool and cotton, a razor-edged sliver of flint, a hair comb of fish bones and that most indispensable feminine utensil, a hand mirror of polished silver.


being an incan and a member of a social fabric where industry was considered the most important of all things, this flapper of Cacamaquilla was an even more accomplished young thing than the lace-gowned Moujik girl. In her life there was no such thing as idleness. As every girl of her day was supposed to be proficient in all housewifely duties by the time she was 13, when she was compelled by law to be married, she was doubtless kept busy acquiring skill in weaving, embroidering, spinning, sewing, cooking and the many other duties essential to an Incan wife. And while she had not yet reached marriageable age when death came to her, she had become an adept at weaving. For wrapped in the folds of her coarse cotton shroud was a roll of her lovely tapestry, not yet completed, and beside her mummy was her rectangular work basket filled with spindles, hanks of yarn and the implements used in weaving and carding. Yet she must have found time for recreation, for in her basket also were a number of little bone squares, each bearing a different number of black dots—remarkably similar to the dominoes we use today.

About the time that this young Incan girl was weaving cloth or playing dominoes in Peru, a young Aztec girl in distant Mexico was being taught to spin and weave cotton. Unfortunately the climate of Mexico and Yucatan destroys rather than preserves human remains and textiles. As a result we have little knowledge of what the ancient Mayan misses wore, although it is probable that their fashions 1,000 years ago were much the same as those of today and that the flappers of Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Copan wore loose, one-piece cotton garments elaborately embroidered in floral designs of bright contrasting colors very similar to the costumes of their descendants in Yucatan and Guatemala at the present time.


but we do know what the Aztec girls and women wore. Not only did the Spanish conquerors leave descriptions of the Mexican women's dress, but the Aztecs themselves painted them upon their codices or pictographic records. Also, from these booklike strips of painted papyrus we may learn much about the daily lives and occupations of the Aztec women.

On the Mendoza codex preserved in Oxford University, in England, there are several pictures showing a young girl being taught to spin and weave. In the first drawing the miss is wearing the romperlike garments of childhood, and her mother is showing her a cotton spindle with cotton ready to be spun into thread. To indicate that the mother—who is wearing quite modern pajamas—is talking to her daughter, the artist drew her tongue outside of her lips, while an oval object represents a corn cake or tortilla.

In the next scene the girl has changed her costume and wears a blouse like her parent's. And now she has learned to spin thread and as a reward for her industry her mother has given her a tortilla and a half. She must have been an intelligent young lady, for in the third picture she is shown busy at a hand loom with a serape already partly woven. She certainly has earned her reward of the two tortillas shown by the artist. Also, her mother must now consider her a young lady rather than a child, for her boyish bob has been supplanted by luxuriant tresses and her costume is the counterpart of that of her mother—who is still talking.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.