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Human Effigy Head

Effigy head

This unique ceramic head speaks to life on the Plains 5,000 years ago. It is Kansas' oldest fired clay artifact, uncovered by archeologists during excavations near Council Grove.

People have lived in Kansas for thousands of years. Through the ages they have left behind many reminders of their lives.

In the early 1960s, several excavations were conducted in Morris County where a project to build Council Grove Lake would soon flood several prehistoric sites. One of the main investigations was on property owned by William Young of Council Grove, and thus the spot became known as the William Young archeological site.

Two ceramic artifacts were recovered from the William Young site. Both were modeled clay human effigy heads. The head pictured here is on display in the main gallery of the Kansas Museum of History. Its incised decorations include small circular eyes and arched lines across the forehead indicating wrinkles or face painting. Around the top are dashes representing a narrow headband. It measures just over two inches high and under one inch wide.

Munkers Creek Culture

The effigy was created by people whom archeologists today classify as "Munkers Creek." This culture was first recognized and defined during excavations at the William Young site and was named after a stream flowing through the property. All of the known Munkers Creek sites are located on the flood plains of rivers or major streams.

Effigy head on display at the Kansas Museum of History

The Munkers Creek phase lasted for about 500 years, from 3550 to 3050 B.C. Its people lived in east-central Kansas, primarily in the Flint Hills region where tallgrass prairie predominates. They had large campsites covering several acres. Munkers Creek people returned time and again to the William Young site, which was a seasonal workshop and camp in the Neosho River valley. There, chert from nearby hills was chipped into gouges, points, axes, and knives. Archeologists have uncovered layers of hearths, tools, and debris that tell of the many generations of Munkers Creek people who once worked there.

The Munkers Creek people hunted bison, elk, and deer, and smaller game such as rabbit and prairie dog. Moving in large family groups, these nomadic hunters traveled within recognized territories. From seasonal camps, they harvested wild plants, hunted roaming animal herds, and gathered raw materials for tools. They discovered that stone slabs could be used to grind seeds into edible meal. This meant that plants became a more important part of their diet, and they collected nuts, berries, and seeds. Hunters used dart throwers known as atlatls, more powerful and accurate than hand-thrown spears. They also domesticated small dogs, fashioned clothing from animal skins, and adorned themselves with shell and bone beads.

Although Munkers Creek people used a wide variety of chipped stone artifacts and bone and copper tools, they made no pottery vessels. Instead, their use of pottery was limited to effigies and other small nonfunctional objects.

See a 360-degree view of the effigy head

This effigy head is the oldest artifact on display at the Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Human Effigy Head

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2003

Date Modified: June 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.