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.


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!