Mission Santa Catalina’s Mondadiente de Plata (Silver Toothpick): Materiality and the Construction of Self in Spanish La Florida

  • Jessica Striebel MacLean


In the spring of 1984, a silver toothpick, or mondadiente, was excavated from the central plaza of Santa Catalina de Guale, a Franciscan mission that marked the northern periphery of the Spanish territory of La Florida until its abandonment in 1680 (Thomas, 1988a, b; Figs. 1 and 2). Toothpicks, at the time of Santa Catalina’s settlement (1587–1680), were used as intimate objects of personal hygiene and adornment. Like Dave Jensen’s toothbrush and Kiowa’s hatchet, toothpicks were carried by their owners on journeys to new, unknown, and potentially violent worlds not only for their personal utility, but because they served as expressions of self and home, as tangible embodiments of their owner’s individuality. Objects such as a silver toothpicks can help us to understand individuals in their particularity and cultures writ large. Exploration of the dialectic between people and things allows us as archaeologists to engage with the dynamics of the past and provides a means to tease out the situated meaning of self in daily practice.


Seventeenth Century Material Culture Personal Hygiene Grave Good Social Elite 
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My sincere thanks go to David Hurst Thomas and Lorann S. Pendleton for introducing me to St. Catherines and her artifacts, and to the Edward John Noble Foundation, the St. Catherines Island Foundation, and the American Museum of Natural History for making our studies of St. Catherines possible. The Edward John Noble and St. Catherines Island Foundations have made continued study of the collection possible by their donation of the entire archaeological collections (including the toothpick) from St. Catherines Island to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History (Atlanta), with the final transfer to be completed in 2010. I thank Mary Beaudry, Nan Rothschild, and David Hurst Thomas for comments on earlier drafts, and Al Wesolowsky for his invaluable assistance and humor in preparation of the art. A special thanks goes to Felipe Gáitan Ammann, Meredith Linn, Elizabeth Martin, and Erin Hasinoff for the exchange of ideas that has made this worthwhile. I am grateful to Carolyn White for inviting me to participate in this volume, and to Margaret Striebel and Simon MacLean for the love and support that has helped this story come to life.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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