Prehistoric Textiles & Living Archaeology Weekend

By Living Archaeology Weekend Steering Committee

Every year, the Living Archaeology Weekend (LAW) Steering Committee develops a new t-shirt design that honors archaeology of the Red River Gorge and Kentucky, and those that have lived here in the past (you can view our past t-shirt designs here). This year, the LAW t-shirt recognizes a perishable material and technology that, while rare to find at archaeological sites, is something that has been relied on for thousands of years, and that we still rely on today. That is… TEXTILES!

A textile is something that is woven- whether it be baskets, mats, slipper, nets, or fabrics.

Today we make textiles from cotton and wool, but in the past Native hunter-gatherers and farmers would have used local plant fibers, soft animal fur and even bird feathers to make textiles. Archaeologists believe that as much as 90% of ancient peoples’ technologies were made from perishable materials, including their houses, clothes, containers, and other everyday objects. Such perishable items, while rare to find, have been discovered by archaeologists throughout Kentucky, including in the dry rockshelters of the Red River Gorge, and in cold caves like Mammoth Cave.

When visiting LAW, you may see examples of textiles and textile production techniques at several demonstration tables. On the Pioneer Technology side, you may visit the “Distaffs and Niddy-Noddies” (demonstrators JoAnn Oborski, Susan & Rick Rindchen) tent to learn about techniques and tools used by Historic period pioneers to spin threads and weave textiles.

Walking over to the Prehistoric Technology side of the event you may see archaeologist Christina Pappas illustrate the weaving technique called twining, which has been used by peoples since before the Paleoindian period. Other related demonstrations include the “Cane Artistry” demonstration (Robin McBride Scott), which shows how river cane can be used to make Southeastern basketry and mats, and the “Versatile Cattail” demonstration (Roberta Burnes), where you can view how cattails were woven into mats that could be used for bedding and house walls.

Living Archaeology Weekend is at it again for their 31st Annual event at the Gladie Visitors Center in Red River Gorge. This year’s event will be open for the public on Saturday, September 21, 2019 from 10 AM to 5 PM. Interested in coming? Join our Facebook Event or visit our website!

Resources on Textiles & Archaeology:

A Brief Introduction to Kentucky’s Prehistoric Textiles by Chris Pappas

Forgotten Tradition: Spinning Prehistory in the American South (reprint from Spin-Off Magazine) by Chris Pappas

A Word About Spinning by the LAW Steering Committee

Public Demonstrations & Living Archaeology Weekend (in Ply Magazine) by Chris Pappas

Tennessee’s Woven Treasures by Edward Jolie & W. Rex Weeks


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