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What is a gorget?

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

(Pronounced gor·juht)

Gorgets are ornaments that were suspended from the neck to lay on the chest. This article is going to focus on gorgets made and worn by the mound builders and tribal nations from the southeast.


Gorgets were worn for ceremony, in battle and possibly as a talisman. As armor, gorgets were worn tight against the throat to prevent injury during battle. During times of peace, the gorget was worn loosely over the chest.


Gorgets were worn by more than just men. Women and children also wore gorgets.


Before European contact, gorgets were made primarily out of shell, but also bone and copper.


Gorgets were either round or oblong shaped. A large number of round or circular gorgets have been found at archeological sites across the southeast. The shape of gorgets that we see in contemporary tribal life are similar to the natural oblong shapes cut from the convex or concave side of the shell.


In contemporary Indigenous communities, gorgets are worn as formal wear. The more tiers the gorget has the more formal the occasion, but alternatively the more tiers shows the prominence of the wearer, like a chief, mekko, dignitary, etc. may wear a 3 tier.


References:


Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, volume 49: Artifacts from the Craig Mound at Spiro, Oklahoma


Hightower Anthropomorphic Marine Shell Gorgets and Duck River Sword-Form Flint Bifaces: Middle Mississippian Ritual Regalia in the Southern Appalachians by Shawn Marceaux and David H. Dye

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