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Our museum holds extremely significant collections of ancient basketry, woven fiber artifacts found by archaeologists in caves of the Desert West. Using AMS radiocarbon dating, tiny samples of these unique objects can now be accurately dated, illuminating a deep and complex history of weaving traditions in western North America. The dating has been primarily supported by the Bureau of land Management, the agency responsible for managing many of the sites where these artifacts were found. The earliest woven artifact from Oregon is a strand of braided sagebrush bark from Paisley Caves directly dated to ~12,000 years ago. Fort Rock-style sandals range in age from over 10,000 to about 9300 years old, and woven baskets span the past 8,000 years.
Oregon's ancient basketry was made with three basic techniques: twining, plaiting, and coiling. Twining, in which a pair of weft elements is twisted (or twined) around opposing warp elements, is the most common in Oregon and along the north Pacific Coast. Plaiting, the simple over-and-under interweaving of opposing fibers, is a common basket-making technique, but rare in Oregon. Coiled baskets, built up from a spiraling foundation element, are relatively rare in Oregon. Coiled baskets are sometimes described as 'sewn' because the outer coil is attached to the previous one by stitching.
Our extensive northern Great Basin basketry collections are dominated by a twining technique centered in southeast Oregon and nearby areas in Nevada and California. Twined basketry is abundant in southeast Oregon after about 8000 years ago, including Catlow Twine ware similar in materials and structure to historic basketry of the Klamath and Modoc Indians. Catlow Twine is a flexible basketry made primarily from marsh reeds (Scirpus sp.) using a 2-ply cord warp and a counter-clockwise weft twist.
Many decorative variations are present in the region’s twineware, including overlay, false embroidery, and diagonal twining. Overlay uses a fiber of contrasting color over the structural fibers with which it is twisted, so the decorative fiber is oriented with the structural. False embroidery uses a contrasting fiber to wrap the structural fiber, so the decorative element is at right angles to the structural. In diagonal twining, wefts engage two warps at a time, alternating weft pairs with each row.
Coiled baskets, comprising only about 2% of our archaeological basketry, are found in eastern Oregon sites in Harney and Malheur County, where directly-dated examples all fall within the last 2500 years. Photography by Chris White, text by Tom Connolly, and web development by Keith Hamm. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.
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