Ancient Basketry from the Biderbost Site

2,000 year old basketry from the Biderbost Site, Seattle. Source: Burke Museum.

The Biderbost site is on the Snoqualmie River near Seattle.   Since 1960, a series of excavations have revealed a remarkable set of artifacts made from organic materials, preserved because of the water-saturated, anaerobic conditions of deposition.  The Biderbost site was the first site of its kind to be excavated in the Northwest, at least to a professional standard.  The Burke Museum has an excellent page on this site, including a page of basket photos (reasonable resolution, yay), weaving techniques, and conservation of these delicate artifacts.  There are also three informative (if not exciting) videos on YouTube about:

These artifacts, which include a large number of basketry pieces, date about 2,000 years ago.  Since most archaeological sites in the Northwest preserve stone, shell and bone fairly well but not wood, bark or root, these sites (which also includes Ozette, Hoko River (pics now broken fixed), Pitt Polder, Qwu?gwes, Kilgii Gwaay, and others) offer remarkable insight into the organic technology.  Ordinarily, we don’t see this stuff at all archaeologically and yet it may be the majority of the traditional technology; it may be stylistically distinctive and different compared to stone and bone tools; and it may be disproportionately representative of the lives of women.

Why there aren’t more archaeologists focusing research questions on these sites is unclear to me: yes, they are awkward sites and expensive and time consuming, but then so are shell middens.  I suspect it boils down to the unfortunate fact that the key NW wet-site researchers in the last thirty years (Dale Croes and Kathryn Bernick) were never in the kind of academic position where they routinely supervised graduate students and hence they were never able to harness the energy and intellect of that backbone of NW Coast Archaeology: the Master’s student and their diverse and often excellent theses.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that the Burke Museum has a Biderbost “Adopt a Basket” program to help with long term conservation of this remarkable suite of artifacts.

Basket rim and body fragment from Biderbost. Note the mud embedded in the weave. Source: Burke Museum.

Fishing weight wrapped in basketry with sticks attached. At a normal site this would appear to be an unmodified pebble. Source: Burke Museum.

One response to “Ancient Basketry from the Biderbost Site

  1. Quentin: Only a few years late on this one–however should point out that the Biederbost site basketry are remarkably similar in style to the Water Hazard site–both 2000 years old and no doubt represent a widespread style of Marpole culture type Salishan ancient basketry.

    As to harnassing graduate students, though no MA program at SPSCC we have had a number of MA students work on Qwu?gwes (and still are) at other fine Universities, such as WSU (I am adjunct there), UNM, U. Exeter and TESC (MA in Environmental Studies that Kathleen Hawes has been part of for her MA working on wet site wood and fiber and charcoal cellular ID–should be done this Spring). I am exciting that you now have Ph.D. programs at UV! See you soon, Dale

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