SOME items in the Museum Worcestershire collections still contain mysteries that our Curators are yet to solve. This early 1900s cradleboard is one such item.

Cradleboards were used in indigenous North American cultures to transport infants on their mother’s back, keeping her hands free to do work and stay safe.

The boards could be leant against a tree or a wall, hung from a branch or a saddle horn and the bumper bar at the front protected the child if the board fell over.

This particular bumper bar’s shape is typical of those manufactured around the Great Lakes and western Parklands. The decoration is intricate as most of the external cotton or canvas is covered by tiny glass seed beads attached with applique stitch in straight rows, a style typical of the Plains Ojibwe people.

Thimbles and hawk bells are sewn on at various points which are typical Indigenous embellishments. The cradleboard is stuffed with a plant fibre likely to be sphagnum moss, which was also used in nappies.

When the Curators were getting the object ready for display, they came across an unusual small pouch hidden inside the cradleboard. The pouch was filled with lead shot. How did it come to be there and why?

Research into the early museum documentation revealed little about how and when the item had come to Worcester.

Our World Cultures Curator worked with an expert from Ontario, Canada who suggested the pouch matched the board in date and its red fabric trim suggested it could be a medicine bag.

It is possible that the pouch was stored in the cradleboard to carry ammunition for a hunting party and was subsequently forgotten about… but the exact origin of the lead shot will most likely remain a museum mystery.

This object has been on display in Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum’s Mayflower 400 exhibition to tell part of the story of colonialism and the effect it had upon the Indigenous people of America.

During the late 19th and 20th centuries, young children were often taken from their families by colonial officials to be forcibly assimilated in residential schools.

Some of the Indigenous objects on display in Mayflower 400 are examples of items produced and sold in the souvenir market, a way of putting food on the table as the population were forced into reservations.

Museums Worcestershire’s three museums are currently closed following recent government guidance, but there are plenty of ways we are bringing culture to you at home during this time. Visit our website to stay connected with local heritage and discover online displays, fascinating curator blogs and fun educational activities for all the family.