Fiber and Perishable Objects in Archaeology and Beyond

Session Hosting Format: 
in-person session
Samedi, mai 4, 2024 - 10:20am - 12:00pm
Michelangelo B
  • Tracy Martens, Royal Saskatchewan Museum
  • Bailey Monsebroten, Royal Saskatchewan Museum
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

Today, most people live in uninterrupted contact with fibre and perishable items, from status symbols like designer clothing and handbags to utilitarian objects like automobile seatbelts, paper, and household linen. Archaeological evidence indicates that the tight-knit relationship between people and fibre and perishable items is genuinely ancient, with indirect evidence of fibre processing dated over 100,000 years BP at Cueva Anton, Spain and convincing evidence that Neanderthals possessed yarn production technology. This revelation has been interpreted as evidence of increased cognitive capacity (Hardy et al., 2020). Yet, aside from enthusiastic hobbyists and textile specialists, few people, including but not limited to archaeologists, have a working understanding of fibre types and processing, yarn production, and textile structure. Likewise, even fewer people appreciate the complexity and prolonged engagement demanded by these techniques, particularly before and during mechanization when processes were performed entirely or partially by hand. As a result of this unfamiliarity, researchers often ignore fibre and perishable items and associated technologies or superficially address them, leading to misleading categorization including but not limited to miscellaneous items alongside rosary beads, marbles and clocks (Mackay et al. 2006). This session invites papers and project descriptions focused on detailed recordings and analysis of fibre and perishable items from archaeological, historical or museum contexts that demonstrate the research value and potential of fibre and perishable items and associated materials. Contributions might also include best practices for handling, recording and storing fibre and perishable items and recognizing tools and indirect evidence for fibre processing.

10:20 AM - 10:40 AM: Analytical Approaches to Fiber and Perishable Artifacts
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Tracy Martens - Royal Saskatchewan Museum
  • Judith Cameron - Australian National University
  • Charles Higham - University of Otago

Analytical approaches to fibre and perishable artifacts have expanded from detailed technical analysis to diagnostic imaging, chemical and stable isotope analysis and even machine learning. Where such methods have been successfully applied, our understanding of resource use, technological development, trade, identity and even cognitive capacity, among Neanderthals, has been established or improved. Despite the potential of these artifacts to contribute to common archaeological questions, fibre and perishable items remain misunderstood, understudied and under-analyzed by archaeologists. In this paper, we describe our recent and ongoing investigations using stable light isotope analysis and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of fibre and perishable artifacts from an Historical Australian site, light microscopy, SEM-Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX), photogrammetry, and 3D scanning of cord-marked pottery sherds from the collection at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and Ban Chiang; a Bronze/Iron Age site in Thailand. We also assess these analytical methods' effectiveness, practicality and contributions in the case studies presented and future possibilities for further work. 


10:40 AM - 11:00 AM: The Subarctic in the Southwest? The Advent of Leather Footwear in a World of Sandals
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • John  Ives - University of Alberta
  • Kevin Gilmore - HDR Inc.
  • Edward Jolie - University of Arizona
  • Benjamin Bellorado - University of Arizona

Circumpolar populations negotiated an “Arctic filter” that must have involved sophisticated leather footwear capable of dealing with severe northeast Asian and Beringian environments through which Indigenous Ancestors would travel entering the western hemisphere. Yet, apart from glimpses afforded at sites such as Spirit Cave or the mid-Holocene moccasin from a Mount Edziza ice patch, ancient leather footwear is exceedingly rare. While leather footwear remained critical in the north, early populations in the Great Basin and American Southwest soon employed fibre perishable sandals that largely dominated the archaeological record until the late fourteenth century. Then, leather footwear quickly succeeded sandals amongst many Southwestern populations. This has at times been attributed to the appearance of Apachean ancestors in the Southwest and southern Plains. We explore this adoption of leather moccasins in light of the hundreds of Promontory Cave moccasins in Utah, a scattering of similar moccasins in Wyoming and Colorado, and at prominent Southwestern sites including Mesa Verde, Aztec, Montezuma’s Castle, Chaco Canyon and Walpi. Apachean ancestors entered a turbulent thirteenth century world—where Puebloan peoples were retracting into fewer, larger communities—and brought with them a Subarctic moccasin style that became the basis from which leather footwear came to dominate.

11:00 AM - 11:20 AM: An Island in Space and Time: A Transitional Early to Middle Archaic Fiber Perishable Assemblage from Franktown Cave, Western Great Plains, USA
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Kevin Gilmore - HDR
  • Edward Jolie - University of Arizona

Manufacture of perishable artifacts, particularly complex artifacts such as sandals and baskets, follows traditions of shared teaching and learning that overlap with individual and group identities and so are valuable for establishing regional sociocultural connections. However, sites preserving perishable artifacts are inconveniently rare and geographically isolated, creating interpretative challenges. Franktown Cave, at the edge of the western Great Plains, contains an assemblage of woven sandals and coiled basketry in two components dated 3310-2940 and 2840-2490 BC, and suggests possible interaction or cultural affinities with populations of the Colorado Plateau to the west and the northern Chihuahuan Desert to the south. The Franktown Cave projectile points are similar to types found on the Colorado Plateau dating much earlier, but similar contemporaneous points are found in southern New Mexico and Texas south into northern Mexico, providing additional support for a southern connection. The early component at Franktown Cave slightly predates the appearance of the Northern Plains Middle Archaic McKean technocomplex in the region, whose users dominated the Central and Northern Plains for over 2000 years. Thus, Franktown Cave may represent the northern frontier for southern ideas (and possibly people) just prior to the arrival of northern technologies that defined the Middle Archaic.      

11:20 AM - 11:40 AM: Tips and Techniques for the Care of Waterlogged Perishable Archaeological Artifacts
Format de présentation : Online - pre-recorded
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Kathleen Sullivan - Canadian Conservation Institute

The Archaeological Conservation Laboratory at the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) is a resource for the heritage community, and treats archaeological artifacts from across Canada, particularly waterlogged perishable materials. Fibrous and perishable materials rarely survive in the archaeological record, making such finds even more significant. When perishable materials such as textiles, rope, cordage, basketry, leather, and wood do survive, more frequently they are found in a wet or waterlogged context. Waterlogged perishable materials are some of the most fragile types of artifacts that can be recovered during an archaeological excavation. To ensure the best possible long-term preservation consideration for the care of these artifacts needs to begin upon discovery. As a part of our mandate, CCI archaeological conservators also respond to general information requests related to the conservation of this type of material. From these conversations, we have identified common themes and questions about the care of perishable materials. Based upon these themes and questions, this talk will cover tips and techniques for handling, suggestions for packaging materials, and options for long- and short-term storage of perishable archaeological artifacts.

11:40 AM - 12:00 PM: Qu’Appelle Valley Rug Hooking
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Bailey Monsebroten - Royal Saskatchewan Museum

The study of Metis people’s artistic achievements has been a growing field in recent years. Much attention has been paid to their beadwork, and some to their silk embroidery. While this is excellent progress for the inclusion of the Metis in the Canadian Art Historical cannon, a lesser-known Metis art form, rug hooking, has not been as well represented. This presentation will examine three hooked rugs held in the collection of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, created in Qu’Appelle Valley. These rugs provide an interesting puzzle leading to a discussion on the rug-based economy that existed among the Metis road allowance communities in the area, the later rug production in the area by Dakota women from Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation, and an examination of rugs produced in Manitoba to provide context on the identification and appreciation of this little known but rather significant part of Metis Material Culture.