Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program
Back in May, the Sam Noble Museum released a most exciting announcement on our blog, detailing a prestigious contest for conservation. We diligently urged our followers and fans to vote for our deteriorating treasure, a swatch of Native American lace from the 1400s, and promised to keep our faithful readers updated with the latest news.
The Spiro lace
For two months, the museum’s staff sat on pins and needles, eager to claim the attention and aid that could accompany a place in the 10. After long days of waiting for that fateful email, the results finally arrived on August 6.
The Oklahoma Cultural Heritage Trust recognized the Sam Noble Museum as having one of Oklahoma’s top 10 endangered artifacts. In addition to receiving the Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award for earlier campaign progress, the Sam Noble Museum will receive free lodging to attend the Oklahoma Museums Association Annual Conference in Enid, Oklahoma. The museum will also be recognized at the OMA Awards Program on Friday, September 27.
Top 25 finalists receiving the Cultural Heritage Stewardship Award
As you recall from our first post, the Spiro lace, from 1400 AD, was discovered buried beneath Craig Mound at the historic Native American Spiro Mound site in eastern Oklahoma by a University of Oklahoma excavation team operating under the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s. The Spiro Mounds are known as one of the most significant ceremonial sites in North America and were actively used from 800 to 1450 AD.
The Spiro Mounds
Since then, many cultural artifacts have been recovered from beneath the mounds, including cups, pottery, tools and textiles like the Spiro lace. The lace survived in part because of its proximity to copper plates beneath the mound, whose metallic properties served as a preservation tool for hundreds of years.
“It looks like they [Oklahoma Native Americans] had many clothing and elaborate costumes we know nothing about,” said Elsbeth Dowd, the former collection manager of the Sam Noble Museum’s archaeology department and current museum registrar.
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, when this piece was discovered many decades ago, as a good-intentioned effort to prevent further deterioration and tearing, the lace was glued to a yellow matboard.
The lace glued to matboard
Current preservation efforts are geared at safely removing the lace from the matboard, as the acidic properties of the board will gradually wear on the lace and inflict further damage. Additionally, with the lace removed, archaeologists like 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,” Dowd confirmed.
Thanks to your votes, the museum is one step closer to obtaining the preservation care so desperately needed. Through the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program, the Sam Noble Museum hopes to gain further recognition and support for its conversation efforts. It is evident that Oklahomans care deeply for their rich history, which is precisely why the museum is dedicated to preserving it for generations to come.
If you would like to support the Sam Noble Museum’s preservation efforts or any of its other programs, operations, and development of exhibits, click the donate button on the museum’s homepage.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!