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Prehistoric Textile Art

Extract From The Thirteenth Annual Report Of The Bureau Of Ethnology, 1891-92

William H. Holmes (1884)

 Gustav's Library Vintage Reprint

Charring, contact with copper, impressions on pottery, arid environments, these are the ways that fabric was preserved over the ages just waiting for William H. Holmes to study and describe it.  One of our favorite authors takes a look at wattle work, fabrics, feather work, basketry, matting , nets, etc. 

This is one of the series of publications written to accompany the report on the mound explorations of the bureau of ethnology by Cyrus Thomas.

"About the year 1890 the writer was requested by the Director of the Bureau of Ethnology to prepare certain papers on aboriginal art, to accompany the final report of Dr. Cyrus Thomas on his explorations of mounds and other ancient remains in eastern United States. These papers were to treat of those arts represented most fully by relics recovered in the field explored. They included studies of the art of pottery, of the textile art and of art in shell, and a paper on native tobacco pipes. Three of these papers were already completed when it was decided to issue the main work of Dr. Thomas independently of the several papers prepared by his associates. It thus happens that the present paper, written to form a limited section of a work restricted to narrow geographic limits, covers so small a fragment of the aboriginal textile field."

Holmes' Definition of the Art: "The textile art dates back to the very inception of culture, and its practice is next to universal among living peoples. In very early stages of culture progress it embraced the stems of numerous branches of industry afterward differentiated through the utilization of other materials or through the employment of distinct systems of construction. At all periods of cultural development it has been a most indispensable art, and with some peoples it has reached a marvelous perfection, both technically and esthetically.
     Woven fabrics include all those products of art in which the elements or parts employed in construction are more or less fllamental, and are combined by methods conditioned chiefly by their flexibility. The processes employed are known by such terms as wattling, interlacing, plaiting, netting, weaving, sewing, and embroidering."

This 8-1/4" x 10-1/2",  64 page, soft cover, facsimile reprint contains 9 full page plates and 28 illustrations.  $7.95



Scope of the work
Definition of the art
Materials and processes
Sources of information
Products of the art
Wattle work
Types of basketry
Sieves and strainers
Pliable fabrics
Development of spinning and weaving
Fossil fabrics
Modes of preservation
Fabrics from caves and shelters
Charred remains of fabrics from mounds
Fabrics preserved by contact with copper
Fabrics impressed on pottery


Plate I. Products of the textile art: a, Openwork fish baskets of Virginia Indians; b, Manner of weaving: c, Basket strainer; d, Quiver of rushes; e, Mat of rushes
      II. Mat of split cane
     III. Mantle or skirt of light-colored stuff
      IV. Fringed skirt
       V. Frayed hag and skeins of hemp fiber
      VI. Charred cloth from mounds in Ohio
     VII. Drawings of charred fabric from mounds
    VIII. Copper celts with remnants of cloth
      IX. Bits of fabric-marked pottery, with clay casts of same
Fig. 1. Fish weir of the Virginia Indians
      2. Use of mats in an Indian council
      3. Use of mat in sleeping
      4. Section of cliff showing position of grave shelter
      5. Portion of mantle showing manner of weaving
      6. Analysis of the weaving of fringed skirt
      7. Former costumes of woman and girl in Louisiana
      8. Border of bag
      9. Sandal or moccasin from a Kentucky cave
     10. Fine, closely woven cloth preserved by contact with copper beads
     11. Small portion of rush matting preserved by contact with copper
     12. Split-cane matting from Petite Anse island, Louisiana
     13. Fabric-marked vase from a mound in North Carolina
     14. Diagonal fabric, ancient pottery of Tennessee
     15. Fabric from the ancient pottery of Alabama
     16. Twined fabric from ancient pottery, Tennessee
     17. Twined fabric from ancient pottery, Tennessee
     18. Twined fabric from ancient salt vessel, Illinois
     19. Twined fabric from ancient salt vessel, Illinois
     20. Twined fabric from a piece of clay, Arkansas
     21. Twined fabric from ancient pottery, Tennessee
     22. Twined fabric from ancient pottery, Missouri
     23. Twined fabric from ancient pottery, Carter county, Tennessee
     24. Twined fabric from ancient pottery, Tennessee
     25. Twined fabric from ancient pottery, Tennessee
     26. Twined fabric, with patterns, Ohio valley
     27. Net from ancient pottery, District of Columbia
     28. Net from ancient pottery, North Carolina

Sample Illustrations - click on image to enlarge