Ancient crafting methods improved life for makers and tribes

As promised, here is the post on how Native Americans in the Mesa Verde region of Colorado used plant life to craft useful items. This post was first published on Writing Places – The Blog, Monday, July 14, 2014

 

This past weekend, our family went to Mesa Verde National Park, located in the south western area of Colorado. Cortez, Mancos and Durango are some of the nearby towns. If you ever have a chance to visit this place, do it. The views were outstanding and the cliff dwellings were amazing. The National Park Service has even provided a nice lodge in which to stay.

I plan to show you more pictures this week, but first I want to talk about our visit to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. The museum fascinated me because it focused largely on the arts and crafts used for survival by these tribes. The artifacts it contained were left by the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the area for approximately 700 years. For unknown reasons, they left the area in the 1200’s and their descendants now live in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. However, while they lived in Mesa Verde, they thrived and used the land around them to fashion items that improved their lives.

Known as basket weavers, the Ancesteral Puebloans perfected this art and then moved on to pottery. They made their tools out of bone, sticks, flint and rock and were able to grow crops rather than depending solely on hunting and gathering. Among the artifacts are also jewelry, scraps of food, and craft supplies.

Yes, craft supplies. There were small bundles of human hair tied with a string on display that archaeologists thought they might be saving for future projects. I was tickled that ancient women were just like us – gathering a stash for later use. Of course, their supplies were much different and fewer in quantity. They could not run down to the nearest craft store for a big sale and stock up. Their supply stores consisted of the natural elements around them – shells, bone, human hair, turkey feathers, fur and plants.

Here are some pictures we took of one particular exhibit. Please note that we did not use a flash because flash photography deteriorates artifacts.

In this picture, Indian artisans used a "knotless netting technique" to make a fabric. If you look closely, the hair is neatly coiled into loops over a straight strand comprised of several hairs called cordage. Here is another example, in the Arizona State Museum. And here is a video on how to loop. - Photo: Mike Steeves
In this picture, Indian artisans used a “knotless netting technique” to make a fabric. If you look closely, the hair is neatly coiled into loops over a straight strand comprised of several hairs called cordage. Here is another example, in the Arizona State Museum. And here is a video on how to loop. – Photo: Mike Steeves
This is ancient yarn! The caption underneath the sample says:  "Downy turkey feathers were split, twisted into two-ply yucca cord and woven into a soft, warm cloth. This technique is actually a form of basket weaving using soft material. The quill is often the only part of the feather that remains today." Photo: Mike Steeves
This is ancient yarn! The caption underneath the sample says:
“Downy turkey feathers were split, twisted into two-ply yucca cord and woven into a soft, warm cloth. This technique is actually a form of basket weaving using soft material. The quill is often the only part of the feather that remains today.” Photo: Mike Steeves
ChapinMesaMuseum_MS (3)
Photo: Mike Steeves
Here is another type of yarn that they used.  "Fur Strip Yarn Fur yarn was made in the same way as turkey feather yarn by twisting narrow strips of small animal hide into yucca cordage." (Above) "Rabbit (top) and woodrat (bottom) hide ready to be made into yarn."  Photo: Mike Steeves
Here is another type of yarn that they used.
“Fur Strip Yarn
Fur yarn was made in the same way as turkey feather yarn by twisting narrow strips of small animal hide into yucca cordage.” (Above) “Rabbit (top) and woodrat (bottom) hide ready to be made into yarn.” Photo: Mike Steeves

Of course, the yucca cordage – fashioned from the yucca plant – had to be made as well.

Here is a boot made from turkey feather yarn using a “finger looping technique”.

Photo: Mike Steeves
Photo: Mike Steeves

Here are some “winter sandals stuffed with grass for warmth.”

Photo: Mike Steeves
Photo: Mike Steeves

The little sign below the sandal reads:
“Sewing. Although clothing was often a wrap that needed a belt or tie, sewing was not uncommon. Needles were made of animal bone and the fiber of yucca leaves. Cotton, yucca and human hair thread cordage were often used as thread.”

Here is a “twilled sandal with side looped tie. Many different methods were used to tie sandals”.

ChapinMesaMuseum_MS (7)

Here are some twill plaited sandals made for a child. According to the sign that reads“Sandals, Yucca sandals were the primary footwear. Basket maker examples show complex patterns made of yucca fiber so fine that it resembles woven cotton. Pueblo 1 through Pueblo III sandals became less intricate and were mostly made of simple or twill plaited yucca leaves. Of the thousands of sandals found, no two pairs are alike.” Kind of an ancient OOAK, wouldn’t you say?

ChapinMesaMuseum_MS (8)
Photo: Mike Steeves

Later on, the Puebloans began growing cotton, which became the preferred cloth for clothing. Here is a sample of cotton cloth used for clothing.

Photo: Mike Steeves
Photo: Mike Steeves

This picture shows what a male Puebloan may have looked like. According to a sign near the display, the Spaniards who explored the area thought that the local people were well-dressed.

ChapinMesaMuseum_MS (9)

This picture shows what a male Puebloan may have looked like. According to a sign near the display, the Spaniards who explored the area thought that the local people were well-dressed.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the lives of an ancient people. It is amazing to see the development of humans as they learned to make items that would improve their lives. How does crafting improve your life? Have you ever made yarn or cloth from unusual items rather than the regular yarn and fabric you find in modern stores? Feel free to leave your comments below.

One thought on “Ancient crafting methods improved life for makers and tribes

  1. Pingback: Ancient crafting methods improved life for makers and tribes | The Contemplative Crafter

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