A Meeting Of Science And Culture: Ancient Basketry

In 2004 archaeologist Dale Croes and Native American basketmaker Ed Carriere began an unusual collaboration to study and eventually reconstruct ancient baskets from the Pacific Northwest.

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Ed Carriere weaves a cattail basket. He also wove the cedar-bark vest and cedar-bark hat he’s wearing. Credit: FREDRICK DENT
Ed Carriere weaves a cattail basket. He also wove the cedar-bark vest and cedar-bark hat he’s wearing. Credit: FREDRICK DENT

Fall 2018: By Julian Smith

Suquamish elder and master basketmaker Ed Carriere was thrilled when he first saw the fragments of ancient cedar baskets in the Biderbost Collection at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum in Seattle. Carriere was fourteen when tribal elders first taught him how to weave traditional baskets. At age eighty, seeing a fragment one of his ancestors had created by hand 2,000 years ago was something new. “It really got me so interested that I just had to replicate and weave like that,” Carriere said.

The visit to the Burke, which took place in 2014, was the result of a collaborative effort between Carriere and archaeologist Dale Croes, an adjunct professor at Washington State University. The men had joined forces over a decade earlier when Croes began inviting Carrier to his digs to help excavate 700-year-old clam baskets almost identical to those Carriere has made throughout his lifetime. Their combination of scientific approach and traditional cultural knowledge has expanded our understanding of the history and techniques of Northwest basketry and its importance in native culture. In the process, the men have made beautiful baskets and become close friends.

Native groups in the Pacific Northwest have used baskets woven from plant materials for millennia. Most are made from the roots or boughs of cedar or spruce trees, and are used for storing dried foods or transporting goods. Some designs are suited for specific purposes: for example, Carriere’s traditional Coast Salish clam baskets have a large carrying handle on top and an open weave to wash out sand. Watertight sewn baskets, made with a coiling technique, can be used to boil food when heated rocks are added. “Our societies couldn’t have gone on without them,” said Bud Lane, vice chair of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and president of the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association. “We carried our babies, our food, our firewood. (Lane is also a master basketmaker.)

Excerpt, Read More in our Fall 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 22 No. 2. Browse Contents: FALL 2018 .

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