Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.

 

Historical Heroes: Saving the Spiro Lace

Although preservation knowledge is in no short supply, unfortunately, it is not always possible to administer optimal care to all of the millions of items that a museum houses. According to Lindsay Palaima, the Registrar at the Sam Noble Museum, museums often cannot show their most valued items as they are too fragile without extensive preservation efforts.

 “It’s so hard working in museums because you show only three to five percent of what you have,” Palaima said.

The largest obstacle in artifact preservation is a lack of public awareness, which is why organizations have founded programs like the Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust. The program consists of a 2-year initiative funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Service that strives to generate publicity for the preservation needs of Oklahoma artifacts.

The Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust established the Top Ten Most Endangered Artifacts Campaign to do just that. Museums, libraries, and archives from across the state submitted their artifacts for selection, and between May 1 and June 1, the public will vote for their ten favorite artifacts.

On May 1, the Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust announced the Sam Noble Museum’s Spiro lace as a final contestant at a ceremony held at the Oklahoma State Capitol building. The museum received the Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award for their campaign progress thus far, but the museum will fight diligently for a spot in the top ten.

imageThe twenty-five finalists at the OK State Capitol.

 The Spiro lace, from 1400 AD, was discovered by a University of Oklahoma excavation team in the late 1930’s. It was buried beneath Craig Mound at the historic Native American Spiro Mounds location in eastern Oklahoma, which is known as one of the most significant ceremonial sites in North America. The site was actively used from 800 to 1450 AD.

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The Spiro Mounds in eastern OK.

 Archeologists discovered many artifacts beneath the mounds, and the lace survived in part because of its probable proximity to copper plates, whose metallic properties served as a preservation tool.

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A close-up of the Spiro lace.

 “It looks like they had many clothing and elaborate costumes we know nothing about,” said Dr. Elsbeth Dowd, the collection manager in the Sam Noble archaeology department. To read a more in-depth article about the lace, you can visit the museum’s archaeology blog.

 According to Dr. Dowd, this fragment of lace survives as Oklahoma’s oldest textile and offers previously unknown information about the way Native Americans lived centuries ago. Unfortunately, to prevent further deterioration and tearing, the founders glued the textile to a yellow matboard.

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Current preservation efforts are geared at finding out if there is a way to safely remove the lace from the matboard, as the acidic properties of the board will gradually inflict damage. Additionally, with the lace removed, archaeologists like Dr. Dowd would be able to conduct a more informative analysis of the lace using methods such as fiber analysis and 3D scanning.

“Being able to conserve this to give people access to the lace would really be great for research,” confirms Dr. Dowd.

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Dr. Dowd and Palaima at the OK State Capitol.

Dr. Dowd, Palaima, and Dr. Marc Levine, the Sam Noble’s Archaeology Curator, are working as Spiro lace advocates to save Oklahoma history. Now, you can too.

By voting online for the Spiro lace, you are propelling the museum one step closer to a place in the top ten. To vote, click here.

There is no limit to how often you can vote, so remember to vote and vote often. Oklahoma has a unique and rich heritage, and it’s our job as Oklahomans to be responsible stewards of the great land we’ve inherited. So cast your vote, and stay tuned for the results June 1!

The Future is Bright for Native American Culture

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Native American languages are often associated with a bygone era of history, but many people fail to realize that Native American culture thrives today just as it did centuries ago through families dedicated to keeping their heritage alive. Now, more than ever, the emphasis on cultural preservation is being placed in the hands of Native American youth.

One way these students promote the continuation of their heritage is through the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, held annually in early April. Since 2003, children and teens from all across the state of Oklahoma and elsewhere have traveled to compete in their knowledge of Native American languages through music, drama and dance. This year, the fair received a record-breaking 921 students.

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A group performance at the 2013 ONAYLF.

“I wanted to compete in the language fair because I wanted to push myself to try and learn more language and tradition,” Chyna Chupco said, a Muskogee-speaker and past ONAYLF participant.

Although students come to the fair to gain language experience, they often take away even more. Kiowa-speaker Kristin Allen said that the fair has helped her overcome a personal struggle.

“I decided to come back [to the fair] because it’s fun, and it helps me with my shyness,” she said.

Native American languages are not outdated, as some may believe. They have developed over time like any other language by adding words for new concepts, even Facebook. By constantly adapting to changes in society, Native American languages retain their relevancy for younger generations.

In this way, Native American culture can also go hand in hand with pop culture. To hear a clip of previous ONAYLF winner Niigan Sunray singing Adele’s popular song “Someone Like You” in Kiowa, simply click here.

Niigan, and her siblings, Tdohasan, Kowi and Onde, are all first language Native-American-language speakers. They are currently involved with the KIOWA KIDS language program, which recently assisted Kiowa elder Modina Waters in publishing a children’s book through through Native American Languages at the Sam Noble Museum. The book, titled Saynday Kiowa Indian Children’s Stories, tells traditional Kiowa fables in both Kiowa and English. Through their involvement with the children’s book, the Sunray children have learned at an early age the importance of cherishing and preserving their culture.

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KIOWA KIDS language program attendees.

“We can teach our children to keep the language going on,” Niigan said, the eldest child. “Not many people know it anymore.”

Every night the Sunray children sing a traditional Kiowa hymn together, called A-HO Dawkee (Thank You, God). To hear them sing A-HO Dawkee, click here.

Many previous ONAYLF participants consider their role in cultural revitalization an honor as opposed to a burden as they stated a strong interest in passing down their language to future generations of their own. Katy Shackelford, a 16-year-old Chickasaw-speaker, expressed difficultly in imagining a future without Chickasaw.

 “We speak Chickasaw words every day, even if it’s not necessarily whole conversations,” she said. “You can’t really get rid of who you are. A lot of things that we do we do with the tribe, with our culture.”

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Katy and Dale Shackelford at their first fair (2004) and the 2013 ONAYLF.

Katy and her brother, Dale, also emphasized a commitment to sharing their culture with those who may hold outdated ideas about Native Americans.

“We do inform people about Native American culture, even if it’s not specifically Chickasaw,” Katy said.

“Even in Oklahoma, there are lot of misconceptions about Native Americans,” Dale added.

Through outlets like the ONAYLF, Native American youth like these are given the tools and support necessary to preserving their heritage.  Participants in the ONAYLF give reason to believe that the future of Native American culture is bright indeed.

You can read more about this year’s ONAYLF on the KFOR website.