Tag Archives: Burke Museum

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.

Skidegate Haida Model Village

Model of Skidegate (hlgaagilda 'llnagaay) as installed at Chicago Exhibition, 1893.

Model of Skidegate (hlgaagilda 'llnagaay) as installed at Chicago Exhibition, 1893.

The Burke Museum in Seattle is doing excellent work.  I just found the project which they are spearheading, together with the Haida Museum at Kaay’llnagaay and the Field Museum in Chicago, to reassemble the famous model village of Skidegate (hlgaagilda ‘llnagaay) created for the 1893  Chicago World Fair.  This exhibition was organized by Putnam, implemented by Boas, who hired James Deans (a well known Victoria antiquarian) to collect some NW Coast stuff.  Deans outdid himself by arranging for the carving of a complete model of Skidegate Village  – amounting to some 27 model houses (most with frontal poles), 2 model mortuary houses, and 17 free standing model poles.  (Deans also apparently collected three boxcars of other material including an entire house, canoe and other material, but that’s another story).

The Burke Museum now allows you to view an interactive panorama of the model village.

The website is designed both to showcase these model houses and also to help find the 13 houses and poles which have gone missing.   The intention is to return the model village to Kaay in 2011.  Replacement poles and houses will be commisioned for those that cannot be found.   A highlight are the videos of Skidegate residents such as Captain Gold, Niis Wes, Percy Williams, Kii7iljuus, and Kwiaahwah Jones talking about the model village, about family, and above all about being Haida yesterday, today and tomorrow.

House of Contentment, model carved by George Dickson

House of Contentment, model carved by George Dickson