Research Archeologist Studies Prehistoric Textiles at U of A Museum

Elizabeth Horton takes a very small fiber sample from an Ozark bluff shelter textile for further analysis later.
Laurel Lamb

Elizabeth Horton takes a very small fiber sample from an Ozark bluff shelter textile for further analysis later.

Elizabeth Horton, research archeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey's Toltec Mounds Research Station, visited the University of Arkansas Museum last week. The purpose of her visit was to study Ozark Plateau bluff shelter textiles, basketry, and other perishables from the museum's collections in order to gain more insight into prehistoric weaving traditions and plant domestication in the region.

Materials found in bluff shelters are a highlight of the University Museum's archeology collection. Bluff shelters are rock overhangs that prehistoric and historic people utilized. The sites are considered sacred to the inhabitants' modern-day ancestors, including the Osage and Caddo Nations. Such sites are also significant for archeologists because their dry microclimates preserve fragile artifacts, such as textiles and plant food remains, incredibly well.

During her research visit, Horton studied the weaving patterns of various plant fiber bags and baskets that date back hundreds of years. Textile weaving is an art, full of subtle details and techniques. Certain rivercane basket patterns that she studies in archeological materials have been passed down through generations and can still be seen in Southeastern Native American weaving today. Small fiber samples from the bags were taken for further analysis once back at the Toltec Mounds Research Station to learn more about the plant materials that were used in the weaving process.

Plant domestication is also at the forefront of Horton's research. Collaborating with the Arkansas Archeological Survey's coordinating office and the university's MicroCT Imaging Consortium for Research and Outreach, the museum pulled and prepared a well-preserved Edens Bluff bag full of plant seeds for a 3D scan and CT scan. Over 1,900 years old, the bag is very fragile. With these scans, the bag can be examined in more detail on the computer without damaging the original. The bag can also be reproduced through the Arkansas Archeological Survey's 3D printer. The seeds within the bag belong to the plant, Chenopodium berlandieri subsup jonesianum, or goosefoot, domesticated in eastern North America over 4,000 years ago. Some people may be familiar with a relative of this now extinct plant's because it frequently ends up on our dinner plates today — quinoa.

Horton (Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis, 2011) is the Archeological Survey's research station archeologist for Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park and research assistant professor of anthropology, University of Arkansas. She came to the Archeological Survey in 2010 as a postdoctoral researcher at the coordinating office, and began the position at the Toltec Mounds research station in July 2011. Horton's doctoral research focused on Pre-Columbian fabric technology and plant fiber use in the Southeast, and Arkansas in particular, using assemblages from the University of Arkansas Museum Collections. Her specialization in paleoethnobotany brings much-needed skills to the Toltec station and to the entire Survey organization.

About the University of Arkansas Museum: The University Museum develops and maintains extensive collections totaling 7 million objects in the fields of archeology, ethnography, geology, history, and zoology. The collections are available for exhibition, research, classroom use, tours, and loans. It is an part of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and seeks to serve the campus, the community, and research scholars. 


Laurel Lamb, curator
University of Arkansas Museum


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