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By Steven L. Hart – Huntington, Indiana


Many of us have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of childhood and adult hours walking the land or working the fields, always in eager anticipation of finding that next ancient stone treasure. First as a child, and later as a young adult, I built my self-found cigar box collection of broken points, along with an occasional whole arrowhead or Indian stone. In all those many adventures, one artifact form I never happened across was the prehistoric smoking pipe. Authentic ancient pipes are rarely found in northeastern Indiana, and I suspect the same holds true for most other regions of our continent today.

As the ancient smoking pipe is infrequently recovered, some of today’s mature collections have few or none at all. The Hart collection has been fortunate across the years, as we have been able to assemble a number of very old pipes into a family collection spanning some 80 years of assemblage. These prehistoric smoking implements have all been acquired through trade or purchase; not a single pipe has been a field find by three generations of searchers. Obtaining an ancient pipe can be a rare occasion, too, as a finder seldom parts with his prize—and rightfully so.

Prehistoric pipes were made in a variety of forms, shapes, sizes, and materials. With the exception of spears and arrow points, the writer believes there are more pipe type variations than any other relic type. Tracing the chronology of prehistoric pipe types is difficult, as there are large numbers of variables and variations; and even when studying a single pipe type, we seldom find two pipes identical in style, size, shape, and material. Variations also occur within color, surface treatment, finish, appearance, and condition. Each pipe was individually fashioned by its maker, either for a ritual ceremony or for individual smoking enjoyment. This is unlike knife, spear, and arrow points, whose forms were closely copied during manufacture, one generation after another, sometimes continuing for centuries.

Prehistoric pipes were made in a finite number of basic forms: tubes, cones, bi-conical, cubes, tees, vees, vases, elbows, disks, balls (bowls), platforms, etc. Pipes were fashioned (a) very simply in shape and form, (b) elaborately with geometric patterns, or (c) given an iconic or effigy form. I believe the most interesting of the pipe shapes are those that incorporate an effigy; i.e., a replication of living entities such as humans, birds, animals, reptiles, and sometimes strange, zoomorphic (stylized) fi gures.

Each pipe maker captured his unique thoughts in his creation, and those making an effigy representation fashioned an image of a living being—one they very much admired and respected, as it could take hundreds of hours to fashion their work. Unknowingly, they gifted those creature representations to us, millenniums later, for study and admiration. In this writer’s humble estimation, these stone effigies are some of the premier artforms that prehistoric peoples gave us. It should make each of us stop and think of what legacy we are leaving for future mankind to enjoy from our time on Earth. Those “prehistoric” peoples may just outshine us in artwork when examined by the ultimate judgment of time.

Smoking instruments were first fashioned in the Midwest and Midsouth regions of what is now the United States about 5000 years ago, during the Late Archaic tradition. The conical tube was the first pipe introduced by Archaic peoples about 3000 B.C. These tube pipes were further refined fifteen hundred years later by the Glacial Kame peoples of Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.

The tube pipe and use of smoking materials (including tobacco) were carried into the Early Woodland tradition (800 B.C. to 200 A.D.), as the Adena people and others refined the conical or cylindrical tube smoking device. The Adena added development of various straight, flared, and handled versions of tube pipes. These early renditions were generally simplistic, cylindrical in form, and few effigies were fashioned. This is not to say that Adena craftsmanship was poor as the crafting and drilling of long, very thin-wall blocked or flared tube pipes is a challenge. The well-known Adena Man Tube Pipe (Ohio State Historical Society Museum collection) is the zenith of the Adena pipe artform. It is an 8″ long tubular pipe, fashioned from Ohio pipestone, and is believed to be the only complete human form we have from the Ohio Early Woodland period. The mouthpiece of the pipe is located at the top of the head and the bowl was fashioned between the feet. This effigy pipe is artwork of the highest form as viewed by prehistoric or modern standards.

The Adena people also created unique tubular pipes in forms of shoveler duck heads with long stylized necks. These tubes are about 6″ long, all fashioned from Ohio pipestone, and were recovered from Adena mounds in Ohio and West Virginia. The duck heads are carved in detailed relief, with eye sockets carefully drilled, worked, and fashioned for insertion of pearl or shell eyes.


Middle Woodland Hopewell Effigy Pipe, 31/4″, Livingston County, New York (not a Great Pipe).


We have quickly traversed from the very early tube pipes to a much later, highly crafted Hopewell smoking instrument. So what then are the Great Pipes, and where dothey fit in the overall scheme of pipe chronology?From those initial crude tube pipes of 5000 yearsago, we find an evolution and refinement of some thirtyto thirty-five different pipe forms throughout prehistory to the dawn of historic times (approximately 1550 A.D.).Many of these pipe forms are of traditional stem and bowl structure, while others are of recognized form, but made in the likeness of humans, animals, or birds—the so-called effigies.  A plethora of pipe styles and shapes abounds, but one form stands out from all others regarding size, heft/weight, artistic style, material selection, and cultural longevity. This seemingly physical dominant type is the so-called “Great Pipe”.

Great Pipe types are easy to identify—they are made from massive blocks of dense material and can be quite large. They can also be heavy, as one is reported to weigh 18 pounds. Most weigh much less. They are aesthetically pleasing and often anatomically correct for their effigy’s form. These pipes are fashioned from dark steatite/soapstonematerial and are in the forms of waterfowl, raptors, bears, wolves or other canine species, reptiles (turtles), and very rarely, an insect. To the writer’s knowledge, there are no Great Pipes in human form. While authentic human effigy pipes exist, these tend to be of later manufacture, generally of Mississippian tradition.

We have several descriptions or general definitions of Great Pipes by students of the artform: George West (p. 175) described these large, heavy effigy pipes with the following statements: “These pipes have a flat base and are usually of so great a weight that they probably rested on the ground when in use. They must have been intended for community use as they were provided with a long stem that could be passed around the circle, at their councils, without lifting the pipe from its resting place.”


The Great Pipes were smoking instruments, used by persons of power and authority for ceremonial or ritual purposes. Early effigy pipes were perhaps the sacred symbols or icons of reverence for an entire community or clan. Great Pipes may have been elaborate extensions or derivatives of the shamans’ pipes used as early as 800 B.C. in the Midsouth. It was through these shaman pipes that communities offered homage to superiors, gathered to celebrate victories, matings, births and deaths, prepared for war, and offered peace by wafting their smoke upwards toward the overworld or heavens.

Great Pipes are too large and bulky to be carried and used as individual property. Many pipe bowls have material capacity for 10 to 25 ceremonial participants. A chieftain, warrior leader, shaman, or other high ranking smoker participating in a ceremony or ritual could project their individual thoughts and desires upward to the spirit world through the launching of smoke as a visual and physical expression of their needs. What better ritualistic object and ceremonial process than to use the representation of a bird in flight or an animal they highly respected to launch their thoughts and desires. These effigies provided the perfect escape mechanism, yet were representative of figures they saw or encountered every day.


The Don Champion Owl Great Pipe—#T500, 8″, Spencer County, Indiana.

Each pipe had an attached wooden or reed stem as the pipe stone itself can get quite hot. The large pipe bowls can contain enough material for several hours of smoking. The attached stems were probably 11/2 feet or longer and approximately 1 inch in diameter. They all fit inside the drilled steatite receptacle fashioned inside the base of the pipe. To the writer’s knowledge, there have been no organic stems recovered in situ. The wooden stems, like other plant material, would have decayed or been lost through the ages. Reed stems could be easily replaced, so were probably discarded after a period of use. Physical wear or polish on the bottoms of some of the larger pipes indicates extended periods of use—probably centuries. When used in a ceremony, the pipes were either passed from person to person, or if used with an extended stem, could rest on the ground, as West suggests, and pass rotationaly from person to person.


While the ancient Great Pipes are arguably some of the most imposing prehistoric artforms we enjoy today, their cultural origination and foundation is still of some conjecture, and not totally understood. Please allow the writer some liberties with the following treatise, as there remain several valid reasons for uncertainty:

1. Unlike flint quarries, knapper workshops, or bannerstone factories, we have no authenticated record of Great Pipe foundries, where the ground is littered with pipe making remnants—piles of chunks or ground-up, worked steatite.

2. Relatively few Great Pipes have been found in modern times with materials that can be scientifically carbon dated with complete integrity.

3. Great Pipes have been found across such a wide geographical area that they transcend our knowledge of any single traditional prehistoric culture.

4. The Great Pipes are believed to have been found in contexts ranging from Middle Adena to Early Mississippian, spanning a period of some 1800 years—again, much longer than any single traditional culture.

We can say with some certainty that the Great Pipe form is the most culturally diverse of all prehistoric pipe types.

So what are some of the possibilities that could have lead to their utilization across such a lengthy period of time? Several possible rationalizations could be:

1.    These pipes were made very early by a few individual master pipe makers, possibly less than ten. These early artisans could have been associated with Red Ochre and/or Adena cultures. Their works would have been passed from generation to generation, or discovered, picked up, admired, carried, and used for centuries by subsequent cultures.

2.    Pipes were fully utilized until (a) ceremonially sacrificed for an extremely high ranking person; (b) broken beyond salvage and repair, and ultimately discarded; or (c) misplaced and lost.

3.    Great Pipes could have been made by a few gifted artisans of each culture or clan, chosen individuals possessing the highest in lithic artistic skills. This would explain gradual shifts in chosen effigies and forms.

4.    Great Pipe creation could have been limited to two or three brief periods throughout almost two millennia of Great Pipe use. The pipes are considered by many archaeologists as trade materials fashioned by southern cultures and used for trade exchange for copper and mica objects from the North. This would explain why so many are made from similar steatite materials emanating from a few Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee mountain outcroppings.

I am sure there are other rational explanations that time, technology, hard work, and creative thinking will reveal. The above four represent current thinking of Great Pipe origins at the present time.

As stated earlier, Great Pipes were associated with use by Early, Middle, and Late Woodland, and Early Mississippian traditions. Specifically, these were the Adena (800 B.C. to 200 A.D.) of the Early Woodland, the northern Hopewell (200 B.C. to 500 A.D.) and their southern associated Copena culture (100 B.C. to 500 A.D.), and the Early Mississippian (through 1300 A.D.) peoples. 

Gordon Hart studied and collected Great Pipes for almost forty years. In his Volume #2, he stated that the earliest Great Pipes could have been made as early as the very Late Archaic; just as the Adena culture was forming in southern Ohio and adjoining areas. This would have been as early as 800-600 B.C. While this is admittedly conjecture, what we do have in the way of scientific evidence is the Champion Owl Great Pipe (Figure 3), found in 1964 in the bank of the Ohio River. Organic materials found with the pipe have been carbon date tested by two different certified laboratories, resulting in dates of 110 B.C. and 193 B.C. By study of workmanship, wear, and polish, Gordon estimated this particular pipe had been used for approximately 300 years, making its time of creation approximately 500-400 B.C., certainly the time of early to mid Adena habitation. Other period relevant artifacts, found by Champion with the owl pipe burial, included a bell shaped pendant and a quadri­concave gorget, again two additional traditional Adena traits of that age.

Gordon also dated the Payne Duck Great Pipe as very early Hopewell, a time that the Adena and fledgling Hopewell cultures co-existed, approximately 400 B.C. Quoting from page 76 of Volume #2: “This image (the Payne Duck) was crafted in a period co-existent with the very early Hopewell people, yet prior to the appearance of that culture’s effigy monitor based pipes. The bowl is of the design used in the earliest of the Hopewell thick, heavy, large pipes. Once again I wish to affirm I am not stating this is a Hopewell pipe, but it was crafted and used for a ceremonial ritual coexistent in time with that culture. The workmanship indicates traits seen of the transition from Early to Middle Woodland. I feel we are scrutinizing an artifact crafted in the B.C. classification of time.”

Almost all known authentic Great Pipe specimens associated with these Early Phase forms are in the effigies of large birds—either owls or ducks. Bird effigies are usually very exacting, natural looking copies of the fowl specimens they represent. Heads and beaks are well formed and unerringly fashioned; bodies, wings, tails, and feet are meticulously carved and polished. All Early Phase pipes are made of fine grained, green to black colored steatite material. The Payne and Champion Great Pipes of Figures 2 and 3 are excellent examples of Great Pipes of the Early Phase.

The Hopewell Culture had direct affiliation with the Great Pipes via the work of Henry Shetrone of The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society. Shetrone and Emerson Greenman, working in the 1925-1928 timeframe, discovered a cache of five Great Pipes, somewhat in-situ, in the largest mound at the Seip Site, Ross County, Ohio. The Seip Mounds are of classical Hopewell origin, and remnants of that Hopewell ceremonial center have been carbon dated to 400-300 A.D. The cache of the five pipes contained an owl, a nighthawk, two canine type figures (dogs?), and a bear. One large pipe is of a canine effigy devouring a human head. Several other similar Late Hopewell affiliated Great Pipes have been reported as being found in Scioto County, Ohio near the Ohio River. It is widely theorized that the five Great Pipes found at the Hopewell Seip Mounds Site were not made by Hopewell people, but by co-existing culture(s) to the south.

It is thought that these Middle Phase Great Pipes were made by the Copena culture peoples of the Tennessee-Cumberland River regions of Tennessee and Alabama. William Webb discovered the works of the Copper-Galena peoples in the 1940s during an archaeological survey he took of the Tennessee River area. The Copena culture was given its name from the combining of the words copper and galena, two materials used extensively by these southern Hopewell affiliated people. The initial Copena may have originated via the movement of some very late Adena people relocating from their homes in the Ohio Valley to the Tennessee River basin, possibly encouraged by the onset of the arriving/thriving Hopewell.


Great Pipes have been recovered throughout the Midwest and Southeast in the United States, but tend to be found in “clumped” regional areas.



The Great Pipes were made by craftsmen spanning more than a millennium in locations separated by hundreds of miles, by cultures that had no contact with one another. One common factor throughout this extended period was the choice of basic material—steatite. The word steatite comes from the Latin word steatitis—”a precious stone”. Steatite has the noun definition meaning of “a heavy, soft, compact variety of talc having a soapy feel”. Technically, talc is chemically known as hydrous magnesium silicate. It is a material that displays a unique quality—it retains heat and yet resists heat build up, perhaps analogous to the infamous ceramic space shuttle shield tiles. Steatite is used today for heating stones, tabletops, ornamental figurines, and electrical insulator applications. Late Archaic people realized steatite’s thermal qualities some 3500 years ago as they fashioned the first cookware (bowls) with materials originating from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Some of these bowls weighed up to forty pounds—so much for the theory of light nomadic mobility.

Steatite is from the talc family and is sometimes referred to as talc-stone, soapstone and tallow-stone. It is a medium-hard stone that is relatively difficult to form, carve, refine, and work, but polishes to an attractive, almost three-dimensional gloss finish. It comes in a variety of colors depending upon location of origin, and can vary from grayish-white, through yellow, green, blue, brown, and even black. Some of the finer materials display gold-like mica flecking which makes the polished material extremely eye catching, especially when viewed in sunlight. Occasional red or orange streaks are found as iron and other oxides complement the basic steatite.

Steatite is the ideal material for pipe making. It has excellent thermal properties and can be worked, refined, and finished to a highly desirable surface appearance. It was also readily obtainable. In 1890, Gates Thruston wrote: “Steatite or talc, in its various colors from North Carolina or the eastern borders of Tennessee, was the material generally utilized in the manufacturer of fine stone pipes. No other stone was so suitable for this purpose. It is not easily injured by heat, and compact steatite is not easily fractured. It can be carved or drilled without very great labor, and some varieties have a surface finish as brilliant as marble, when polished.”

Another distinctive feature of steatite is that as it is heated, it becomes harder, thus making it relatively easy to form yet increasingly durable when used. Steatite can withstand temperatures in excess of 1300 degrees centigrade in a non-compression loading condition, making it excellent for pipes requiring large bowls holding vast amounts of smoking materials. The long, bi-conical, constricted center shaman tube pipes of the Tennessee Valley were the first pipe types to use steatite for instruments exceeding 5″ in length. These pipes appeared in the 800 B.C. time period in Tennessee, Kentucky, and far southern Ohio areas. One interesting additional note concerning the material—it appears that once a cultural group discovered the advantages of steatite, they never reverted back to other lithic materials i.e., limestone, quartzite, pipestone, sandstone, etc.

Steatite material is found in numerous places: the Northeast, Ontario in Canada, the Appalachian Mountains, Wyoming, various California sites, and others. The dark southeastern steatite was favored for almost all Great Pipes. All Early Great Pipes are of dark steatite, and it was not until late Hopewellian times that Great Pipe makers used other materials. The material generally came from outcroppings in Appalachian Mountain areas of western North and South Carolina, Virginia, and eastern Tennessee. Kevin Dann reported: “. . . materials used in some steatite pipes can be traced to the actual quarry source by modern scientific techniques. Chemical mixtures vary in different steatites and this diversity is capable of being pin-pointed by a process termed neutron activation analysis.”

Blocks of steatite were considered a desired commodity by prehistoric peoples. As Woodland trade networks developed, especially in the Early to Middle Woodlandperiods, raw forms of the material were traded initially, withfinished pipes exchanged by southern cultures in mid-late Ohio Hopewell times, possibly for copper, mica and other northern ritual objects. The dark green to mottled black materials were the most popular in migrating from the Southeast and finding their way north and west. The four pictures of Figure 6 below show several of the steatite colors and combinations. Figure 6A is a pipe composed of very dark green material with solid black splotches. It appears in normal indoor light as a black bird— outdoors becoming green with black. Figure 6B is a close-up of a pipe stem barrel of brown steatite material interlaced with tiny gold mica flecks. Figure 6C is a pipe stem barrel that is made of a green material with very noticeable black speckling throughout. It makes a very attractive artform, especially in natural light. The surface finish has a depth as it has been polished through handling, probably for hundreds or a thousand years. Figure 6D shows the interaction of the different material compositions found in the talc family of materials. The red stripes in the brown material are the result of iron oxides being randomly distributed through this block of steatite. In sunlight, the material is a spectacular presentation and enhances the artistic value of the effigy.

Great Pipes were fashioned initially for ceremonial and ritual purposes. Each clan, group or community had a pipe fashioned in a form revered and that served appropriate rites and needs. Early Great Pipes were almost always birds, primarily ducks and raptors. Later pipes were fashioned in the forms birds, plus bears, wolves or other dogs, and there are even a few turtles. Late Great Pipes, which seem not to follow earlier traditional patterns, included several insects and a number of highly stylized figures.

Great Pipes are almost always in the forms of birds, animals, turtles or insects. Bird forms include ducks, wood ducks, raptors (including owls, eagles and hawks, falcons), swans, toucans, a passenger pigeon, ravens, a nighthawk, a kingfisher, a hybrid combination wood duck and wolf, highly stylized (zoomorphic) effigies, and I am sure there are others I don’t recall. Of the bird effigy forms, generic ducks, wood ducks, and owls (usually the horned owl type) are most numerous, especially those pipes fashioned under Adena influence.

The early pipes are fashioned as almost exactrepresentations of the type of species they represented. The pipe in Figure 7, called the “Shaman Wood Duck Pipe”, was found in Posey County, Indiana (in the far southwest corner of the state bounded by the Ohio and Wabash Rivers). The pipe is 6″ long and appears to be a duck at rest on the water. Figure 8 is the Rolling Fork Wood Duck Pipe. It portrays the face and body of another wood duck at rest on the water.  It is 81/2″ long and was found in Marion County, Kentucky. It presents the head, body, feet, and tail of the wood duck. The comb on the head shows great wear, likely from long periods of use and handling.


Animal effigies represented the bears, wolves, and possibly dogs. Several Great Pipes have been found with the heads and necks of turtles, but to the writer’s knowledge none have been recovered that depict a reptile’s shell and torso. The writer believes the animal/reptile effigies were made in the Middle Phase of the Great Pipe period, possibly 300-700 A.D. These effigies generally display less body detail and are somewhat simplistic in form when compared to the earlier fowl representations. While the friendly looking black bear of Figure 4 has a happy expression on its face, there is little body/stem development. The pipe barrel is a well-fashioned tube extending behind the neck. The bowl is well designed and cleanly formed, but lacks any sign of enhancement. This is the Max Shipley Great Bear Pipe, found in 1871 in Switzerland County, Indiana.


Turtle Effigy Pipe—#A3, 8h/2″, Scioto County, Ohio.

The turtle in the Figure above has a very well-developed head and neck with some formation of body. It is an appealing artform and well proportioned as a smoking implement when held in one’s hands. The pipe is known as the “Turtle Effigy Pipe.” It is 8’/2″ long and is dark brown in color. This turtle was discovered in Scioto County, Ohio, near the Scioto River, a short distance down river from the Seip Mounds.

Late in the age of Great Pipes, possibly 800-1300 A.D., the very stylized and individualistic pipes began to appear. These took on very creative forms and were not good copies of the effigies they represented. Unique forms were made as is shown by the effigy pipe in Figure 10. This pipe is called the “Colonel Bennett Young Pipe”. It could have been made in the transitional times of Middle to Late Woodland as it shows traits of late Hopewell, including the curved base, the placement of the bowl at the apex of the curve of the base, and the working of the round bowl is similar to that seen in Ohio pipestone monitor pipes.


The effigy’s teeth are demonstrated by lines similar to well known tally marks. This pipe is 7’0 long and was found in Cumberland County, Kentucky. It was collected early in the nineteenth century by President Andrew Jackson and was displayed in his home, the Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee.

Other creative Great Pipes of this later era include insects. The Cincinnati Museum of Natural History has in its extensive collection a Great Pipe in the form of an upside down grasshopper holding the bowl in an inverted fashion.


Great Pipes vary in size from 5″ to as much as 18″ in length. George West (p. 654) in his works discusses and depicts a “Large Bird Effigy Pipe” found near Knoxville, Tennessee that is 18″ long. The smaller Great Pipes, still displaying all primary attributes, range down to 5″ in length. Most pipes fall in the 7″ to 9″ range. Figure 11 shows one of the longer pipes. Measuring in at almost 12″, the “Migrating Duck Pipe” is one of the author’s favorites. It is of green-black mottled steatite and weighs about five pounds. It possesses the accurately-shaped head of a duck extended in flight with deeply carved eye sockets. At one time these sockets contained inlayed shell eyes.


Migrating Duck Great Pipe #A8, 113/4″, Cumberland County, Kentucky.

At the small end of the size spectrum is the “Warren Moorehead Small Great Pipe,” measuring 5’/2″. This pipe was found in the late 1800s in Forsythe County, Georgia by archaeologist Warren K. Moorehead. First impressions are that these small Great Pipes could have been as used as a proverbial “personal Great Pipe.” This theory is somewhat negated by (1) the large size of a bowl that can hold almost as much smoking material as many of the larger pipes, (2) a very large stem hole which accommodates a large diameter wooden or reed stem, and (3) a pipe this small and with this large of a square bowl will build up a substantial amount of heat, such that a long stem is needed to provide a comfortable distance between smoker and fire. The Moorehead Pipe is made of a dense gray-brown steatite containing a heavy concentration of mica particles. The pipe weighs in at two pounds. This pipe is probably of the Middle Phase period of the Great Pipes, contemporary to the Hopewell, and exhibits the Copena Culture influence in stylized design, markings and workmanship.


The fashioning of each Great Pipe is unique, but its overall style is always related to the period of design and manufacture. Early makers were meticulous about exacting replication of the effigy being modeled. Realistic facial and body treatments were attempted of the subject image. Early makers placed great emphasis on eye treatments and placements. Use of river pearls or shell cutouts were fashioned to closely replicate eyes. Attachment of these “eyes” was developed to a high science. Proportion was everything. Middle Phase crafters were less critical about perfection and more into stylized carvings and markings. Late Phase craftsmen were highly creative with style and form, and took great liberties with ebb and flow, sometimes even ignoring body forms, limbs, wings, and feet.

Two head treatments are shown in Figures 18A and B. The first photo shows the very simple head of the Shipley Great Bear Pipe #T-240. The face is distinctive, but not elaborate. The ears are pronounced; the eyes have been hollowed out, probably to receive small river pearls or shell cutouts; and the mouth was incised with a somewhat friendly smile. The neck is well proportioned and gracefully attaches to the body. The body has no development other than the bowl and stem. This pipe was probably made about 400 A.D.

The McMinnville Bird Great Pipe is shown in Figure 18B. This fowl’s head is well developed with an exacting head shape, has shell inlayed eyes, and shows detailed beak and mouth formation. An outstanding feature that is seldom seen on Great Pipes found outside the Tennessee River area is the craw or “Adam’s apple” seen on the throat of the bird. This element is prominent to the great bird pipes of this area.  It is believed that this is late Copena era pipe, possibly 400-600 A.D.

A somewhat more traditional body treatment of a southern Great Pipe is shown in Figure 19. This is the Milton Swan Pipe. Found in Forsythe County, Georgia this pipe is made of gray-brown steatite, probably from North Carolina or Georgia hill country. The pipe is 73/4″ long and 4’/2″ high. The bird displays a long flowing neck. The body is in the form of a carved block, very cubic, but aesthetically pleasing, as the head, neck and body all flow smoothly together. The markings and wing detail are all gouge carved, but well polished. The pipe is not highly finished and does not display the deep luster of others in the flock. It was fashioned perhaps 1000 years later than the early pipes, so has not been handled and used nearly as long. Its material is not as conducive to fine polish, and its squared body with gouged markings does not lend itself to universal surface polish, hence areas near surface discontinuities are still rough and give the appearance of not being completed.


The Milton Swan Great Pipe—#A43, 73/4″, DeKalb County, Georgia.

The early, highly developed Great Pipes demonstrate the artisans’ love of nature, as each effigy was always developed in great detail. The greatest of the Great Pipes usually display detailed features such as under beaks, legs and feet finely carved in relief in the underbelly of the bird. The George West Great Pipe shows these details as seen in Figure 20. The West Pipe was found in Floyd County, Indiana in the last years of the nineteenth century. The bird’s legs and feet are carefully placed in a tucked position beneath its body, as if it were at rest. Notice also the carefully carved beak and the craw or adam’s apple in the throat, all in proper location and detail.


The Great Pipes were always the premier collectable sought after by my father, the late Gordon Hart of Bluffton, Indiana. Gordon began his relic collecting in northeastern Indiana atthe age of six with the recovery of several arrowheads. His life was devoted to study, collecting, documentation and teaching of prehistoric American artifacts. His specialty was collecting prehistoric smoking pipes. In 1965 he acquired his first Great Pipe, the Great Turtle Pipe #A3 (Figure 9). He had collected a number of lesser pipes in previous years, but his friend Paul Malloy of Lincoln, Illinois offered him the opportunity to procure “the turtle,” and thus his collection of “Greats” had begun. Across the next 20 years he collected 20 of these classics from collectors such as Malloy, Dr. Stan Copeland, Clemens Caldwell, B.W. Stephens, E.K. Petrie, Don Crouch, Max Shipley, Lynn Munger, Howard Steere and others. His final and possibly most important Great Pipe came in 1994, when he acquired the Don Champion Great Pipe (Figure 3) and its accompanying materials.


Gordon and Marcella Hart with 21 Great Pipes (1984).

Gordon wrote two books on prehistoric pipes and attempted to use technology and scientific reasoning and logic to develop his findings and subsequent theories. The firstwork,Hart’sPrehistoric Pipe Rack—Prehistoric Pipes of the Mississippi River Waterways—East, Volume 1, published in 1978, features a large number of short-to mid-length articles off a vast number of pipe types. His objective was to present the reader with an expanse of information on different types and styles of pipes. His second book, Hart’s Prehistoric Pipe Rack-Prehistoric Pipes of the Mississippi River Waterways—East, Volume 2, published in 1998, focuses on a smaller number of pipe forms, but goes into great depth in terms of facts and informational development. In 2001, with permission from the Milwaukee Public Museum, he republished the 1934 works of his icon, George West: Tobacco Pipes and Smoking Customs of the American Indians. Gordon had met West briefly and used several of West’s books as his guide throughout his Great Pipe collecting era.

In the late 1960s, Gordon became increasingly discouraged with the growth of vast numbers of fraudulent pieces being introduced to the public for sale. Counterfeit pipes were available to buyers by the hundreds. Great Pipes were being created by numerous Midwestern fakers. In 1969 he unveiled his concept of a national artifact authentication program to a group of senior collectors from the Genuine Indian Relic Society. In 1970, at a Columbus, Ohio G.I.R.S. show, the Authentication Committee, under Gordon’s guidance, presented the first Certificate of Authenticity. The first relic judged—a Great Pipe.

The picture shown in Figure 21 was taken in 1984 at the peak of the Hart Great Pipe Assemblage. Gordon and Marcella are admiring several recent additions to the collection. Gordon is holding the Byall Man Pipe which is not a Great Pipe, and Marcy is holding the Turtle Effigy Pipe. Together they traveled many miles and befriended many people in the long journey of building the Hart Great Pipe collection. Today my wife, Susan, and I are the guardians of this prehistoric “zoo”.


The author wishes to thank the reader for the time and patience necessary to assimilate this work. The opinions expressed are the writer’s current beliefs, and are not necessarily representative of a majority of students of archaeology today. My conclusions are what they are, based on personal studies and discussions over the past 40 years. They will no doubt morph as additional knowledge pertaining to Great Pipes is gained in future years. The writer cannot emphasize too much that to become a knowledgeable collector today requires study, discussion, more study, logical rationalization and synthesis, and more study. You get the message. The almost lifelong study of the Great Pipes was Gordon’s avocation and he did it well, but it took years of study, hours and hours of discussion, much correspondence, written documentation, synthesis, and compilation. He wrote two books on pipes so that he could capture for posterity what he learned in regard to his love—prehistoric pipes, especially the Great Pipes. His two pipe books and the republication of the George West Pipe Book set are available from Hart Publishers today at

I hope the time you have spent reading this article gives you at least a little better appreciation for those wonderful old artforms we know as—the Great Pipes.

Thanks for “listening”!