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Title: Textile Fibers used in Eastern Aboriginal North America
Author: Whitford, A. C.
Language: English
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              By A. C. Whitford

            [Illustration: THE

         By Order of the Trustees
               New York City



In 1906 the present series of Anthropological Papers was authorized by
the Trustees of the Museum to record the results of research conducted
by the Department of Anthropology. The series comprises octavo volumes
of about 350 pages each, issued in parts at irregular intervals.
Previous to 1906 articles devoted to anthropological subjects appeared
as occasional papers in the Bulletin and also in the Memoir series of
the Museum. Of the Anthropological Papers 35 volumes have been
completed. A complete list of these publications with prices will be
furnished when requested. All communications should be addressed to
the Librarian of the Museum.

The current volume is:--


I. Textile Fibers used in Eastern Aboriginal North America. By A. C.
Whitford. Pp. 1-22. 1941. Price, $.25.

II. (_In preparation._)


By A. C. Whitford


  INTRODUCTION                                   5
  MONOCOTYLEDONOUS SPECIES                       7
  DIOCOTYLEDONOUS SPECIES                        9
  SUMMARY                                       17
  FIBER PLANTS AS IDENTIFIED                    17
  TABLE OF IDENTIFICATIONS                      19


The author of this paper has studied the vegetable fibers used in
fabricating objects in the ethnological and archaeological collections
from the Indian tribes of the Mississippi drainage and eastward, now
in the American Museum. The first task was to identify them and view
them against the background of existing textile knowledge. The present
paper reports these identifications and comments upon fiber samples
from collections in other museums.

The writing of this paper would have been impossible without the
generous and whole-hearted coöperation of many institutions and
individuals. This assistance has ranged from the furnishing of
specimens for determination, to advice as to methods, classifications,
and the supplying of modern material for comparison. For specimens of
classified plants to be used in the comparative work thanks are due to
The New York Botanical Garden in Bronx Park, the Botanical Departments
of the University of Wisconsin, the University of Oklahoma, and the
University of Georgia.

The standard histological microscopic methods were used for the
determination of the fiber. Slides were made of both cross-sections
and longitudinal sections and these were compared with previously
prepared and classified modern material. When the specimen was too
colored for microscopic examination it was bleached in a solution of
Sodium perborate until clear enough for study. In charred material,
when sufficient detail was preserved for identification the fiber
sample was treated with Schultz Maceration solution, washed, dried,
and fortified by saturating in a collodion solution. Occasionally, it
was found necessary to stain the material and in this either
Delafield's Haematoxylon or Methylene Blue was used. In the
differentiation of certain species, it was found necessary to make
microscopic measurements of the length and width of the cells, but
generally the shape, distribution, medullation, and other constant
characters were sufficient for the identifications.

In the text and tables the following abbreviations are used for the
names of the coöperating institutions:--

  American Museum of Natural History                   AMNH
  Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation       MAIHF
  Milwaukee Public Museum                              MPM
  McGill University Archaeological Museum              McGU
  Ohio State Historical and Archaeological Museum      OSHAM
  Peabody Museum, Harvard University                   PMHU
  Rochester Museum of Arts and Science                 RMAS
  University of Kentucky Museum                        UKM
  United States National Museum                        USNM


The fibers from monocotyledonous plants, as identified, are listed
here. Approximately five hundred objects were sampled, so the
frequencies for the several species should be given that denominator.

ARECACEAE, Reichenb. (Palm Family)

The palmetto (_Sabal palmetto_, Walt.) seems to have been an article
of commerce as it was used by the Winnebago and the Iroquois, north of
its northern limit of distribution. It was also used by the Cherokee.
The Winnebago used the fiber in the production of stiff cords for
their bags. In three bags in the American Museum the stiff cords are
made from this material (50-7531). For burden straps the Iroquois used
this fiber to produce stiff strong cords which were covered with
cotton or other soft fiber (AMNH 50.1-1954). The Cherokee used it in
the manufacture of basketry (AMNH 50.1-2141).

BROMELIACEAE, J. St. Hil. (Pineapple Family)

This Florida moss (_Tillandsia usneoides_, L.) was found in specimens
from the Southern States only. The Koasati and the people who built
certain mounds in Florida used it frequently. A specimen in the United
States National Museum from the Parish Mound, Number 2, in Florida,
consisted of a bunch of loose material. The Koasati material is in the
Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, and is represented by
fibers from a blanket and threads on a spindle (1-8551).

DRACAENACEAE, Link. (Yucca Family)

Yucca (_Yucca arkansana_, Trelease) was encountered in one specimen
from the Arkansas Bluff culture in a bundle of loose fiber (MAIHF

Yucca (_Yucca filamentosa_, L.) was found once in a heavy cord made by
the cave and shelter people of Ohio (OSHAM 332-42)

_Nolina georgiana_, Michx., was found in two specimens, a moccasin
(OSHAM 332) and a bristle-like fiber from the Spiro Mound (2718-K,
Trowbridge Collection). It is possible that this plant may have been
used very frequently in objects from caves and rock-shelters. It was
not always convenient, however, to examine complete objects so that
some occurrences of its use may have been overlooked, especially since
these people commonly mixed several fibers. In the specimen in
question, for example (OSHAM 332), _Nolina georgiana_ and _Eryngium
yuccaefolium_ were identified. Similar combinations of fibers from
widely different plants have also been noted; frequently, as in the
example cited, a local plant was mixed with one found at a great

JUNIPERACEAE, Horan (Juniper Family)

Red cedar (_Juniperus virginiana_, L.) was encountered in only one
specimen, a bag made by the Potawatomi Indians (AMNH 50.1-7096).

POACACEAE, R. Br. (Grass Family)

The grass family was the most commonly and widely used of any of the
monocotyledonous families.

Big blue stem grass (_Andropogon furcatus_, Muhl.) was one of the
major fibrous plants used by the cave and rock-shelter peoples of Ohio
in the construction of coarsely woven articles, such as rope and
moccasins. It was commonly used without preliminary treatment, but was
simply twisted or braided into strands. The specimens examined were
from the Ohio State Historical and Archaeological Museum. A typical
example of the use of this fiber is in a woven moccasin (OSHAM 898-1).

Sweet grass (_Hierochloe odorata_, L.), to be distinguished from sweet
vernal grass, was encountered only once in a bag made by the Michigan
Ottawa Indians (MAIHF 19-7125).

Canebrake (_Arundinaria tecta_, Muhl.) was a common source of fiber
for moccasins and rope. It seems to have been utilized by most of the
prehistoric cave and rock-shelter peoples within its range (OSHAM

TYPHACEAE, J. St. Hil. (Cat-tail Family)

The cat-tail (_Typha latifolia_, L.) was observed in a mat found in
the caves of Tennessee (USNM 132252).

ZEA MAYS, L. (Indian Corn)

Indian corn occurred only once. This single occurrence has no real
significance as to the frequency of its use, for all specimens in
which it was obvious that corn was the material used were not sampled.
The sample noted here was found in a knife made by the Micmac Indians
(McGU H76). The material was a cornstalk which had been subjected to
considerable pressure to force out the juice and pith to bring the
hardy flinty layers into juxtaposition. It was then used as a wedge to
fasten the knife handle. It was extremely hard and durable.

The above are the monocotyledons encountered in this survey, in all
some twenty-four objects using this material. It should be noted that
these materials are readily adaptable to use since they need very
little preparation and are frequently used entire. Sometimes the fiber
is removed from the surrounding materials by simply letting them ret.
Yucca and _Tillandsia_ are ordinarily used entire. The grasses were
used as they were gathered, simply twisted or braided. _Tillandsia_ is
the only plant of this group which was used for the manufacture of
fabrics as in the blanket above noted (p. 7). The specimen of
cornstalk was an exception and its preparation was evidently for a
specific purpose.

Palmetto fiber is especially adaptable. At the base of the leaves,
where they join the main stem is a large mass of more or less loose or
loosely interwoven fibrous material which needs only straightening to
be ready for use.


ANONACEAE, D. C. (Custard-Apple Family)

The pawpaw (_Asimina triloba_, L.) seems to have been universally used
by all the tribes who lived where it flourished. Its use was
apparently limited only by its distribution, for it was encountered
sixteen times in the prehistoric material examined from Kentucky,
Arkansas, and Ohio, as well as in historic objects made by the
Menomini and Wisconsin Potawatomi. In the University of Wisconsin
Museum is a bunch of prepared fiber (16422) from the caves of
Kentucky. This fiber was commonly used by the cave and rock-shelter
peoples of Arkansas for cords, mats, rope, and in all coarsely woven
materials. A woven mat from Bushwick Cave is a fair example (MAIHF
11-6243). The Ohio cave and rock-shelter dwellers used the pawpaw for
coarse bags and fabrics, for example, in a split bark bag (OSHAM
332-22). In the Milwaukee Public Museum are two bags in which this
fiber was identified, one, from the Menomini (4570) in which only the
weft is of pawpaw, and another (23287) from the Wisconsin Potawatomi,
entirely composed of it.

APOCYNACEAE, Lindl. (Dog-bane Family)

The genera _Apocynum_ is represented by both the species indigenous to
the territory surveyed, but as Indian hemp is one of them, it was
rather surprising how infrequently they were encountered. Only ten
examples of its use were found.

This plant (_Apocynum androsaemifolium_, L.) which is called dog-bane
is so similar in appearance and properties that it might well have
been and was used indiscriminately with Indian hemp (_Apocynum
cannabinum_, L.). The species was found three times in material
examined. Its use by the Nanticoke in the manufacture of fish nets is
demonstrated by a net (50.2-600) in the American Museum. A burden
strap (50-7221) made from this fiber by the Iroquois is also in the
Museum collections.

_Apocynum cannabinum_ L., the so-called Indian hemp, was found seven
times and of these is represented four times in the archaeological
cave and rock-shelter materials examined. The Museum of the American
Indian, Heye Foundation, has a bundle of prepared fibers (11-7384)
found at Allards Bluff, Arkansas. A dark colored piece of fabric,
attributed to the Hopewell culture of Ohio, made in part from this
material (957) is in the collections of the Ohio State Historical and
Archaeological Museum. Another piece of cloth (1200) in the same
museum is an Adena culture example of the use of this fiber. The
Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, has a Sauk and Fox bag
(2-4694) made from this fiber. In the American Museum a fish net
(50.2-601) made by the Nanticoke and an Iroquois burden strap
(50-7401) complete the catalogue of objects in which this fiber
occurs. In many of the older specimens examined, the fiber was crudely
prepared before twisting, but in the more recent Indian material it is
well broken down and fine, so as to make small counts and even threads
or cords.

ASCLEPIADACEAE, Lindl. (Milkweed Family)

The milkweed family is represented by four species of _Asclepias_,
namely, _tuberosa_, _pulchra_, _incarnata_, and _syriaca_. These
fibers were used in the manufacture of fine threads and cords. In both
archaeological and recent Indian material the fibers were well
prepared before use. In the archaeological objects it is possible that
the fibers were collected in the spring, after retting by the weather;
in any event, they all show that they have been freed to a large
extent of their cementitious materials and epidermis.

The highland milkweed (_Asclepias tuberosa_, L.) was encountered
twelve times from all parts of its geographical range. The cave
dwellers of Arkansas used it, as is exemplified by a bundle of knotted
fibers in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation
(11-6179). In the Peabody Museum of Harvard University is some
textile material which accompanied a knife found in an Ohio mound
(28328). The protohistoric Indians of Massachusetts used the fiber to
manufacture textiles as may be seen in a piece of plain cloth (A4127)
and in a specimen of twined cloth (A5478) in the same museum. The
Iroquois Indians employed it to make fine threads for stringing wampum
belts as is shown by one (M1905) in the Archaeological Museum of
McGill University. As stated above, all this material was broken down
to make comparatively fine, smooth threads and cords.

The species, _Asclepias pulchra_, Ehrh., or swamp milkweed, is closely
related to _A. incarnata_, L. It was found in ten specimens examined,
but from only two states, Ohio and Kentucky. In the University of
Kentucky Museum is a rope (Bh-15/V4), made of this fiber. In the Ohio
State Historical and Archaeological Museum are specimens of fabrics
made from it which are attributed to the Hopewell culture. One of
these, a piece of cloth wrapped around a copper plate (283), also
contains _Urtica gracilis_.

The milkweed (_Asclepias incarnata_, L.) was noted four times in Ohio
archaeological objects. In the Ohio State Historical and
Archaeological Museum is a two-strand rope (899-20), one strand of
which is made from this fiber. This is a typical cave and rock-shelter
sample. Wrapped around a Hopewell culture copper plate in the same
museum is a piece of fabric containing five different fibers, among
them _Asclepias incarnata_ (957).

The species _Asclepias syriaca_, L., seems to be the most widely
distributed geographically of any used by the Indians surveyed in this
paper. It was found seventeen times in material from all sections and
many tribes.

In this Museum were observed the following objects in which this fiber
was used in whole or in combination with other fiber: a Sauk and Fox
bag (50-4886); a Delaware drum string (50.1-1609); a Delaware burden
strap (50-7244); a Matchapunga fish net (50.1-9911); and a cord used,
for wrapping on a spear (50.1-7475), Micmac. In the Museum of the
American Indian, Heye Foundation, is a Kickapoo ball of string
(2-5294) made of this fiber. In an Iroquois wampum belt (M1913) in the
Archaeological Museum of McGill University, the beads are strung on
cords made from this fiber. An Iroquois burden strap (AE 360) in the
Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences is composed of this fiber. Fiber
of this species was also used by the prehistoric cave and rock-shelter
people of Ohio as is shown by a fish net (OSHAM 332-23) in the Ohio
State Historical and Archaeological Museum.

BETULACEAE, Agardh. (Birch Family)

The paper birch (_Betula papyrifera_, Marsh.) was encountered in one
specimen (AMNH 50.2-1792). The bark was untreated, simply twisted into
a cord. In a specimen of Iroquois horsehair embroidery (McGU H49) the
bark had received no preliminary treatment, but was used in the raw

CANNABINACEAE, Lindl. (Hop Family)

This introduced plant, hemp (_Cannabis sativa_, L.), was found in four
specimens, evidently made in post-Columbian times as the plant is not
indigenous to the Western Hemisphere, but was introduced by the
colonists at a very early date. It was found in a bag (MPM 28116) made
by the Wisconsin Potawatomi Indians. A bowstring on an Algonkin bow
(AMNH 50.2-4221A) is made from this fiber as are also portions of an
Oneida burden strap (AMNH 50.1-1800).

DAPHNACEAE (Mezereon Family)

This moose or leatherwood fiber (_Dirca palustris_, L.) was
encountered eleven times in as widely separated states as Arkansas and
Wisconsin. It was used both in the raw state, as strips twisted into
cord, and as treated fiber in finer cords and threads. A prehistoric
mat made by the inhabitants of Bushwick Cave, Arkansas, is composed of
this material (MAIHF 19-4635). Cloth of the Adena culture made, in
part, from this bast fiber (1200) is in the Ohio State Historical and
Archaeological Museum. In the Milwaukee Public Museum is a Wisconsin
Potawatomi bag (23447) in which the weft is nicely prepared fiber
from this plant. In the collections of this Museum is a Winnebago bag
(50-784D) woven with two kinds of cord; light colored cord of _Dirca
palustris_ and dark colored cord of _Tilia americana_.

JUGLANDACEAE, Lindl. (Walnut Family)

The bast from the black walnut (_Juglans nigra_, L.) was encountered
twice in burden straps from the Iroquois (Museum of the American
Indian, Heye Foundation). These fibers had apparently been previously
treated, both chemically and mechanically. They were probably boiled
in ashes, pounded, and then straightened so as to make them usable in
twisting cord and thread. One such specimen in the above Museum
carries the catalogue number 16-5208.

LINACEAE, Dumort. (Flax Family)

Common flax (_Linum usitatissimum_, L.) is another example of
introduced fibers used by the Indians in post-Columbian times. The
fiber was probably secured in trade. It was found in five specimens
made by the Winnebago, Potawatomi, Michigan, Ottawa, and Delaware
Indians. In the Milwaukee Public Museum is a bag (14619), made by the
Winnebago and composed entirely of flax cords. In a Delaware burden
strap (50-7191) in this Museum the fine cords are linen, but the
coarse cords are milkweed, _Asclepias syriaca_. In the Archaeological
Museum of McGill University is a wampum belt (M5932), the beads of
which are strung on a commercial linen thread.

MALVACEAE, Neck. (Mallow Family)

As was to be expected, cotton (_Gossypium herbaceum_, L.) became the
most commonly and universally used of any of the fibers after it was
introduced east of the Mississippi River. No specimen was encountered
in the prehistoric material, but after its introduction and sale by
traders it was the most commonly used fiber. It does not seem
advisable to discuss these uses in detail, suffice it to say that it
served all purposes for which string and thread are utilized.

SALICACEAE, Lindl. (Willow Family)

Black willow (_Salix nigra_, Marsh.). This species of black willow was
used by the Menomini, Winnebago, Michigan Ottawa, and Ojibway Indians
in the manufacture of bags, pouches, fish nets, and cord. A Menomini
bag (MAIHF 8-1136) and a similar Winnebago bag (AMNH 50.1-903) contain
black willow fiber. A Micmac fish spear (AMNH 50-4754) is wrapped with
black willow twine. In the preparation of black willow fiber the bark
was obviously stripped from the tree. Then the inner white bast tissue
was removed and boiled in wood ashes; finally, this bast was pounded
and rubbed to remove all the cementitious materials and loosen the
fibers so they could be arranged more or less parallel to each other
for twisting or spinning. In none of the specimens examined were crude
strips of the inner bark used without preliminary treatment.

TILIACEAE, Juss. (Basswood Family)

The bast layer from the basswood (_Tilia americana_, L.) seems to have
been the fiber most commonly and universally used by the Eastern
Indians, for it was encountered fifty-two times, in all areas from
which specimens were obtained, with the exception of the extreme
south. It was utilized for nearly all purposes, from the manufacture
of bags to textiles. In the Milwaukee Public Museum is a Menomini bag
(4586) made from the _Tilia_ bast, carefully and thoroughly prepared
to remove the gums and render the fibers parallel and capable of being
spun into good yarn. A Potawatomi bag in this Museum (50.1-7091) is
made from the same material. In the Museum of the American Indian,
Heye Foundation, is a bag made by the Sauk and Fox (2-4966). In the
Peabody Museum of Harvard University is a twilled woven garment
(A5479B) made by the protohistoric Indians of Massachusetts. An
Iroquois burden strap (AE 2963) in the Rochester Museum of Arts and
Sciences is woven of threads from prepared fibers from this tree. In
the Ohio State Historical and Archaeological Museum is a prehistoric
fabric (957) containing _Tilia_ and three other species of fiber.
Hopewell mound and rock-shelter specimens in the same museum show the
use of _Tilia_.

The above gives a general picture of basswood fiber usage. It was
found in an untreated state, merely cut into strips, as well as
thoroughly treated and spun into comparatively fine threads.

ULMACEAE, Mirbel. (Elm Family)

The slippery elm (_Ulmus fulva_, Michx.) was found three times. Once,
in a burden strap made by the Iroquois Indians (AMNH 50-6680) in which
the fibers had received some preliminary treatment to soften them and
remove much of the natural gum. Two other specimens, both rather
coarsely woven fabrics from mounds of the Hopewell culture (OSHAM 283
and 125) were in the Ohio State Historical and Archaeological Museum.

The American elm (_Ulmus americana_, L.) was encountered only once in
an Iroquois burden strap (MAIHF 19-4550). The fiber had received some
preliminary treatment and differed decidedly from _Ulmus fulva_ in the
shape of the cells, in cross-section, and the residual amount of
amorphous material.


The _eryngium_ (_Eryngium yuccaefolium_, Michx.) was commonly used by
the prehistoric tribes of the area in which it occurs. It was found
fifty-five times in material from the caves and rock-shelters of
Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. Its parallel veined long
leaves lend themselves to all uses as readily as the yuccas of the
south and west. It is easily shredded or it can be used entire with
equal facility. The stem contains a very strong bast fiber which was
also utilized. It does not seem to have been utilized by the historic
Indians, as it was not encountered outside of the above cultures.
Whatever, if any, treatment it received before usage was very slight
and consisted apparently of shredding, with no chemical treatment, as
no fine threads or cords were found. A sandal from the Kentucky cave
culture is made from this plant by utilizing the leaf, as in the
Southwest. A cord from a reed mat found in the Tennessee caves (USNM
132252) is made from this material. The cord was used for tying reeds
(_Typha latifolia_, L.) together. The Museum of the American Indian,
Heye Foundation, contains many specimens taken from the caves and
rock-shelters of Arkansas. Among these is a bag (11-7315) from Allards
Bluff, made of this material.

This plant was frequently encountered in collections from the Hopewell
and the rock-shelter cultures of Ohio, in the State Museum at
Columbus; as, braided work (957), and cloth from a burial (854). These
objects are believed to be typical, but the same plant was used in all
classes of cordage and textiles found in collections representing
these cultures.

URTICACEAE, Reichenb. (Nettle Family)

The nettle family is represented by three genera, _Boehmeria_,
_Urtica_, and _Laportea_. Specimens of these three were encountered
forty-eight times, so it seems to have been one of the most important
families as a source of fibrous materials. The tissues were, almost
without exception, treated before use.

The stingless nettle (_Boehmeria cylindrica_, L.) was used by
practically all the Indian tribes covered by this survey. It was
invariably more or less treated, with the possible exception of some
twisted strands from the Bushwick Cave of Arkansas (MAIHF 19-4632).
This cord appears to have been made by simply peeling the bark from
the plant and twisting it. The Delaware used the same fiber in a
wampum string (AMNH 50.1-1579), also in a burden strap (AMNH
50.1-1592). A Cherokee string used in a feather charm occurs in the
collection of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. The
handle of a Micmac curved knife (McGU H76) is fastened to the blade by
wrapping with cord of this fiber. In the same museum there are two
Iroquois wampum belts in which the strings for the beads are made from
_Boehmeria_ fiber. In the American Museum are two specimens of cord,
one on a Micmac fish spear (50.1-7475) and the other the string to an
Ojibway bow (50-6874A).

It is evident that raw _Boehmeria_ fiber, properly treated, produces
especially fine, soft, and strong material. It is easily distinguished
from the fibers of the other members of the family by its smaller
size, the shape of the cells, and their distribution when seen in
cross-section. Both the _Urtica_ and _Laportea_ fibers are coarser and
the ratio of length to width of the fiber is much greater. The lumen
in all three is longer one way than the other, but is much more open
in _Boehmeria cylindrica_ than the other species.

The slender nettle (_Urtica gracilis_, Ait.) seems to have been a
favorite source for all peoples from prehistoric to modern Indians.
Its use extended from New England to Wisconsin. It was usually
processed before use, except among some of the prehistoric peoples
where it was merely twisted into cord. A bag from the caves of
Tennessee (USNM 132255) is made from this fiber which has had some
preliminary treatment. A modern Sauk and Fox bag (MAIHF 2-7911) shows
complete preliminary processing. Some string in the Peabody Museum of
Harvard University (A4109), is made from this plant; this is
protohistoric material. The Hopewell culture of Ohio is represented by
twelve specimens using this fiber, all of which show some preliminary
treatment. A sample of cloth from a copper plate is representative
(OSHAM 283). The cave and rock-shelter cultures of Ohio are
represented, but here the fiber seems to have received little, if
any, preliminary treatment prior to use (OSHAM 332-42).

The woods nettle (_Laportea canadensis_, L.) was most widely used of
all of the _Urticaceae_, both before and after treatment. It was used
by the Sauk and Fox for bags, after it had received thorough
treatment. In the Milwaukee Public Museum is a bag (30260) made of
this material, thoroughly treated before being twisted into fine cord.
A string used for tying a spear point to a shaft is in the Ojibway
collection of the American Museum (50-4748). The Iroquois used it to
make burden straps (MAIHF 19-8895). Braided cloth from prehistoric
Kentucky is represented by a specimen (56795) in the Peabody Museum of
Harvard University. The cave culture of Tennessee is represented in
the United States National Museum by a shirt (132254) made from this
fiber. The Hopewell culture of Ohio is well represented by fabrics in
the Ohio State Historical and Archaeological Museum (957, is an
example). The cave and rock-shelter culture of the same state employed
this fiber to make twined cords as is exemplified by a cord (OSHAM
332-34). The cave and rock-shelter cultures of Arkansas used it for
the manufacture of twisted cords as may be seen in a specimen
(19-4630) in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation.


The well-known Spiro Mound, clearly prehistoric, furnished some
examples of basketry, matting, cord, and cloth. The samples were sent
to the writer by Mr. H. M. Trowbridge, Bethel, Kansas.

  2716-C      Twisted fibers covered with feathers     Arundinaria tecta
  2716-H      Twisted fibers covered with feathers     Asimina triloba
  2717-C      Twisted fibers covered with feathers     Asimina triloba
  2717-G      Woody material with feathers attached    Asimina triloba
  2717-I&E    Twisted fiber mass                       Asimina triloba
  2718-E      Twisted fiber mass                       Asimina triloba
  2718-K      Bristle-like vegetable fiber             Nolina georgiana
  2719-J      Twisted vegetable fiber                  Asimina triloba
  2721-A      Mat                                      Arundinaria tecta
  2721-S      Fragment of basketry                     Arundinaria tecta
  2722-D      Twisted fiber                            Arundinaria tecta
  2722-I      Twisted fiber covered with feathers      Arundinaria tecta
  2724-A      Twisted fiber covered with feathers      Arundinaria tecta
  2724-K      Fawn colored string                      Arundinaria tecta
  2731        Mat                                      Arundinaria tecta
  2782        Copper stained rope                      Asimina triloba
  2781        Charred basket                           Arundinaria tecta
  2783        Fibers adhering to copper sheet          Arundinaria tecta

A comparison of materials in prehistoric collections reveals an
excess of animal materials in the artifacts from Spiro Mound. One gets
the impression that in Spiro textiles strings of vegetable fiber are
usually surfaced with hair or other animal materials to increase the
softness of the product. This may account for the almost exclusive
use of canebrake and pawpaw, both relatively coarse fibers used
without preliminary treatment. A striking contrast is between the
slipshod way of making string and the highly precise fine techniques
of covering it with hair and feathers.


This survey makes no pretension of being complete, but it is an
adequate sampling of the fibers utilized by the Eastern Indians and
illustrates their resourcefulness in exploiting the raw materials at
hand. It is noticeable that they used a great variety of plants and
that one of the determining properties or qualifications was the local
abundance of a plant. There seems to have been a tendency to use the
monocotyledonous plants and the bast from the trees for coarser work
and the diocotyledonous herbaceous plants for the manufacture of finer
cords and threads.

Several general points of interest are apparent from the comparative
study of these prehistoric and historic plant materials.

1. The plant fibers used by the prehistoric people were rarely if ever
treated before utilization, while among the modern Indians a high
degree of skill has been attained in the preparation of the fibers
before spinning.

2. There seems to have been some commercial interchange between the
Northern and the Southern tribes, both in historic and prehistoric
times. The occurrence of palmetto fibers in modern Mohawk and
Potawatomi collections and the use of _Nolina_ by the cave and
rock-shelter people of Ohio, shows commerce.

3. It seems that most, if not all, of the materials utilized were wild
plants for there was no discoverable evidence of the cultivation of
these plants. Such evidence would be far from obvious since
cultivation does not seem to improve the fibers in textile plants.

4. Among the prehistoric peoples the purposeful mixing of fibers was
the rule. This is especially notable in the collections from Ohio and
Arkansas. These mixtures of fibers occur both in the same strand and
in the two-ply cords. It is not apparent why the fibers from different
plants were mixed, but the combinations seem intentional, as nettle
and milkweed, blue stem grass and pawpaw, nettle and yucca, basswood
and nettle, and pawpaw and yucca. Yet, such intentional mixtures were
rarely encountered in the historic collections examined.

5. It is apparent that the prehistoric peoples used such fibers as
were adapted to their immediate purpose without previous treatment.
They were stripped from the plant and twisted at once. This seems to
account for the dominance of monocotyledonous fibers in prehistoric
collections. The historic Indians, on the other hand, used a greater
variety of species of fiber plants because they were able to prepare
them properly before using. The determining factors seem to have been
strength, fineness of fiber, and abundance of supply.

All the above observations are consistent with the assumption of a
steady advance in textile skill and knowledge from prehistoric time to
the present.


  Andropogon furcatus                                Blue stem grass
  Apocynum cannabinum, androsaemifolium              Indian hemp
  Arundinaria tecta                                  Canebrake
  Asclepias syriaca, tuberosa, pulchra, incarnata    Milkweed
  Asimina triloba                                    Pawpaw
  Betula papyrifera                                  Paper birch
  Boehmeria cylindrica                               Stingless nettle
  Cannabis sativa                                    Hemp
  Dirca palustris                                    Moosewood
  Eryngium yuccaefolium
  Gossypium herbaceum                                Cotton
  Hierochloe odorata                                 Sweet grass
  Juglans nigra                                      Black walnut
  Juniperus virginiana                               Red cedar
  Laportea canadensis                                Woods nettle
  Linum usitatissimum                                Flax
  Nolina georgiana                                   Yucca
  Sabal palmetto                                     Palmetto
  Salix nigra                                        Black willow
  Tilia americana                                    Basswood
  Tillandsia usneoides                               Florida moss
  Typha latifolia                                    Cat-tail
  Ulmus americana, fulva                             Elm
  Urtica gracilis                                    Slender nettle
  Yucca arkansana, filamentosa                       Yucca
  Zea mays                                           Indian corn


Selected objects in museum collections to show the range and
frequencies in the use of vegetable fibers, including geographical and
chronological distributions.

The objects from the Ohio State Historical and Archaeological Museum
are all prehistoric. In other museums prehistoric objects are marked
with an asterisk (*).


  Number        Object                Fiber


  50.2-4221A    String from bow       Cannabis sativa


  50.1-2141     Basket                Coarse material, Sabal palmetto;
                                        fine material, cotton
  50.1-9911     Fish net              Asclepias syriaca
  50.1-1901a    Moccasin              Corchorus capsularis, jute


  50-7191       Burden strap          Fine cord, Linum usitatissimum;
                                        coarse cord, Asclepias syriaca
  50.1-1592     Burden strap          Boehmeria cylindrica
  50-7244       Burden strap          Asclepias syriaca
  50-7243       Burden strap          Asclepias syriaca
  50-7203       Ceremonial wampum     Tilia americana
  50.1-1609     Drum string           Asclepias syriaca
  50.1-1621     Rope                  Tilia americana
  50.1-1579     Wampum string         Boehmeria cylindrica


  50-6683       Burden strap          Light-colored string, Asclepias
                                        syriaca; dark-colored loose
                                        material, Sabal palmetto;
                                        dark-colored string, Tilia
  50-6682       Burden strap          Light-colored string, cotton;
                                        dark-colored string, Tilia
  50-6680       Burden strap          Ulmus fulva
  50-6681       Burden strap          Brown cord, cotton; light-colored
                                        material, Laportea canadensis;
                                        dark-colored material, Tilia
  50-7221       Burden strap          Apocynum androsaemifolium
  50-7401       Burden strap          Apocynum cannabinum
  50.1-1800     Burden strap          Cannabis sativa, hemp
  50.1-1954     Pack frame            Cotton, palmetto, and Tilia


  50.1-9911     Fishnet               Asclepias syriaca


  50-9885       Reed mat              Tilia americana
  50.1-5880     Bag                   Cotton
  50-9864       Bag                   Soft string, cotton; stiff cord,
                                        Tilia americana
  50-9871       Bag                   Cotton
  50-9873       Bag                   Cotton
  50-9867       Bag                   Cotton
  50-9872       Bag                   Cotton
  50-9866       Bag                   Cotton
  50-4798       Bag                   Cotton
  50-9877       Bag                   Tilia americana
  50.1-6862     Bag                   Tilia americana
  50-9880       Bag                   Tilia americana


  50.1-7475     Fish spear            Dark stiff cord, Boehmeria
                                        cylindrica; gray cord, Asclepias


  50.2-601      Netting               Apocynum cannabinum
  50.2-600      Netting               Apocynum androsaemifolium


  50-6874a      Bow                   Boehmeria cylindrica
  50-4754       Fish net              Salix nigra
  50-4749       Fish hook wrapping    Salix nigra
  50-4748       Spear wrapping        Laportea canadensis
  50-5690       Woven bag             Cotton
  50-4600       Woven bag             Yellow threads, animal; gray
                                        threads, cotton


  50.1-9907     Net                   Cotton
  50.1-9906     Net                   Cotton
  50.1-9897     Net                   Cotton


  50.1-7098     Bag                   Tilia americana
  50.1-6895     Bag                   White cord, cotton; dark loose
                                        fiber, Tilia americana
  50.1-7091     Bag                   Tilia americana
  50.1-6899     Bag                   Cotton
  50.1-7096     Bag                   Cotton and cedar
  50.1-6897     Bag                   Cotton and animal
  50.1-7090     Bag                   Cotton
  50.1-7095     Bag                   Cotton and animal


  50.1-2169     Bag                   Tilia americana
  50-4886       Bag                   Light and dark, Asclepias syriaca
  50-3558       Bag                   Cotton
  50-3550       Bag                   Cotton
  50-2219       Bag                   Cotton
  50.1-2168     Bag                   Cotton
  50-4885       Bag                   Animal
  50-3570       Fiber for making
                  bags                Laportea canadensis
  50-2204       String                Asclepias tuberosa


  50.1-903      Bag                   Red fiber, Salix nigra
  50-7573       Bag                   Blue and red yarn, animal; gray,
                                        cotton; stiff cord, Tilia
  50-7531       Bag                   Soft cord, cotton; hard cord and
                                        loose fiber, Sabal palmetto
  50-7572       Bag                   White cord, cotton; loose fibers,
                                        Sabal palmetto
  50.1-906      Bag                   Tilia americana
  50.1-907      Bag                   Cotton and animal (wool?)
  50-7533       Bag                   Cotton and animal
  50-7759       Bag                   Cotton and animal
  50-784D       Bag                   Light-colored cord, Dirca
                                        palustris; dark-colored cord,
                                        Tilia americana
  50-7532       Bag                   Light cord, Tilia americana;
                                        dark-colored cord, Salix nigra
  50-7574       Bag                   Stiff cords, Tilia americana; soft
                                        cords, Dirca palustris
  50.1-904      Bag                   Cords, cotton; loose fibers, Tilia
  50-7760       Bag                   Cotton and animal
  50-7763       Bag                   Cotton and animal
  50-7843       Bag                   Cotton and animal
  50.2-8024     Bag                   Cotton
  50-7762       Bag                   Cotton
  50.1-905      Bag                   Soft cord, cotton; hard cord, Sabal


  Number      Object              Fiber                        Tribe or
  2-4694      Bag                 Apocynum cannabinum          Sauk and Fox
  2-4966      Bag                 Tilia americana              Sauk and Fox
  2-7911      Bag                 Urtica gracilis              Sauk and Fox
  8-1136      Bag                 Salix nigra                  Menomini
  11-6232*    Bag                 Eryngium yuccaefolium        Arkansas
  11-7315*    Bag                 Eryngium yuccaefolium        Arkansas
  19-7125     Bag                 Hierochloe odorata
  16-5208     Burden strap        Juglans nigra                Mohawk
  19-4550     Burden strap        Ulmus americana              Iroquois
  2-5294      Cord                Asclepias syriaca            Kickapoo
  19-4632*    Cord                Boehmeria cylindrica         Arkansas
  11-6179*    Cord                Asclepias tuberosa           Arkansas
  11-7384*    Cord                Apocynum cannabinum          Arkansas
  11-7429*    Cord                Yucca arkansana and
                                    Asimina triloba            Arkansas
  1-8551      Cord                Tillandsia usneoides         Koasati
  11-8575*    Cord                Asimina triloba              Arkansas
  19-4630*    Cord                Laportea canadensis          Arkansas
  1-8672      Saddle blanket      Tillandsia usneoides         Koasati
  19-8146     Cord on a kettle    Apocynum androsaemifolium    Iroquois
  11-6243*    Mat                 Asimina triloba              Arkansas
  19-4635*    Mat                 Dirca palustris              Arkansas


  Number      Object          Fiber
  332-22      Bag             Asimina triloba
  332-34      Cord            Eryngium yuccaefolium; Laportea canadensis
  332-42      Cord            Yucca filamentosa
  898-1       Cord            Andropogon furcatus
  899-20      Cord            Asclepias incarnata
  7           Fabric          Asclepias pulchra
  125         Fabric          Ulmus fulva
  283         Fabric          Asclepias pulchra; Urtica gracilis; Ulmus
  332         Fabric          Andropogon furcatus; Asimina triloba;
                                Arundinaria tecta
  854         Fabric          Eryngium yuccaefolium
  957         Fabric          Eryngium yuccaefolium; Tilia americana;
                                Asclepias incarnata; Apocynum cannabinum;
                                Laportea canadensis
  1200        Fabric          Dirca palustris; Apocynum cannabinum
  1175        Mat             Arundinaria tecta
  332         Moccasin        Nolina georgiana
  332-27      Moccasin        Arundinaria tecta
  332-23      Net             Asclepias syriaca


  Number      Object          Fiber
  4570        Bag             Asimina triloba
  4586        Bag             Tilia americana
  14619       Bag             Linum usitatissimum
  23287       Bag             Asimina triloba
  23447       Bag             Dirca palustris
  28116       Bag             Cannabis sativa
  30260       Bag             Laportea canadensis
  33076       Fabric          Urtica gracilis


  Number      Object          Fiber
  Le-5/V2*    Netting         Asclepias pulchra
  Bh-15/V4    Netting         Asclepias pulchra


  Number      Object          Fiber
  16422*      Fiber           Asimina triloba


  Number      Object          Fiber
  AE2963      Burden strap    Tilia americana
  AE 360      Burden strap    Asclepias syriaca


  Number      Object          Fiber
  H76         Cord            Zea mays; Boehmeria cylindrica
  M1911       Cord            Tilia americana
  11083       Cord            Asclepias tuberosa
  M1905       Wampum belt     Asclepias tuberosa
  M1908       Wampum belt     Asclepias tuberosa
  M1912       Wampum belt     Boehmeria cylindrica
  M1913       Wampum belt     Asclepias syriaca
  M5932       Wampum belt     Linum usitatissimum


  Number      Object          Fiber
  132255*     Bag             Urtica gracilis
  132254*     Fabric          Laportea canadensis
  132252*     Mat (reeds)     Typha latifolia
  132252*     Cord            Eryngium yuccaefolium
  132253*     Fabric          Laportea canadensis


  Number      Object          Fiber
  A4109       Cord            Urtica gracilis
  A4127*      Fabric          Asclepias tuberosa
  A5478       Fabric          Asclepias tuberosa
  A5479B      Fabric          Tilia americana
  28328*      Fabric          Asclepias tuberosa
  28390*      Fabric          Eryngium yuccaefolium
  56795       Fabric          Laportea canadensis
  8232        Moccasin        Eryngium yuccaefolium

Transcriber's Note

Variant spelling is preserved as printed.

Minor punctuation errors have been repaired.

On page 17, the common name for Eryngium yuccaefolium is omitted from
the table 'Fiber Plants as Identified.' It is typically identified as
button eryngo, button snake-root or rattlesnake master. The omission
in the table is preserved as printed.

On page 21, there is nothing in the 'Tribe or location' column for the
bag, 19-7125, in the table 'Museum of the American Indian, Heye

On page 22, there were no column labels on the tables from 'University
of Kentucky Museum' onwards. For ease of reference, the transcriber
has added column labels.

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