The museum holds significant collections of ancient basketry uncovered by archaeologists in dry 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 museum conducts an ongoing fiber artifact dating program in partnership with the Nevada State Museum, the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Bureau of Land Management.
In addition to the gallery offered here, we invite you to explore our searchable Northern Great Basin Archaeological Perishables Catalog, part of the museum's Anthropological Collections online database.
At present, 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 9,300 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 8,000 years ago, including Catlow twineware 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 using a two-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 percent of our archaeological basketry, are found in eastern Oregon sites in Harney and Malheur Counties, where directly-dated examples all fall within the last 2,500 years.
Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.
Adovasio, James M.
1986 Prehistoric Basketry. In Handbook of North American Indians: Volume 11, Great Basin, edited by Warren L. D'Azevedo, pp. 194-205. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Connolly, Thomas J.
1994 Prehistoric Basketry from the Fort Rock Basin and Vicinity. In Archaeological Researches in the Northern Great Basin: Fort Rock Archaeology Since Cressman, edited by C. Melvin Aikens and Dennis L. Jenkins, pp. 63-83. University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 50. Eugene.
2004a The Implications of Recent Basketry Dating Efforts for Northern Great Basin Cultural History. Paper presented at the Northwest Anthropological Conference, Eugene, Oregon.
2004b The Perishable Assemblages from the Connley and Paisley Caves, Oregon. Paper presented at the Great Basin Anthropological Conference, Sparks, Nevada.
2006 Implications of New Radiocarbon Ages on Coiled Basketry from the Northern Great Basin. Paper presented at the Great Basin Anthropological Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada (publication pending in a thematic basketry volume in the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology).
Connolly, Thomas J. and Pat Barker
2004 Basketry Chronology of the Early Holocene in the Northern Great Basin. In Early and Middle Holocene Archaeology of the Northern Great Basin, edited by D. L. Jenkins, T. J. Connolly, and C. M. Aikens, pp. 241-250, University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 62, Eugene.
Connolly, Thomas J., Catherine S. Fowler, and William J. Cannon
1998 Radiocarbon Evidence Relating to Northern Great Basin Basketry Chronology. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 20(1):88-100.
Cressman, Luther S.
1986 Prehistory of the Northern Area. In Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 11: Great Basin, edited by Warren L. D'Azevedo, pp. 120-126. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Fowler, Catherine S., Eugene M. Hattori, and Amy J. Dansie
2000 Ancient Matting from Spirit Cave, Nevada: Technical Implictions. In Beyond Cloth and Cordage: Archaeological Textile Research in the Americas, edited by Penelope Ballard Drooker and Laurie D. Webster, pp. 119-139. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.