What were ancestral Pueblo people wearing in the Mesa Verde Region?
Artists' renditions of ancestral Pueblo people often depict them wearing very little clothing. Archaeologists have not recovered a lot of clothing from ancestral Pueblo archaeological sites in the Mesa Verde region, probably because such clothing was often made from perishable materials. What they have found indicates that people wore a variety of clothing. The most commonly found items are sandals made from cotton or yucca, and robes or blankets made from yucca cordage and incorporating turkey feathers or rabbit fur. People also wore shirts, aprons, belts, kilts, socks, moccasins, caps, and jewelry. They made clothing from cotton (imported from what is now Arizona), yucca, juniper bark, human and animal hair, feathers, and leather. While selecting objects for our upcoming exhibit, Living West (opens November 2013), I came across two unusual articles of clothing I'd like to share with you.
The first article is a leather cap (object #O.1112.1), which is one of the most unusual caps reported in all collections from Mesa Verde. We don't know the context from which it was collected. The pliable cap is made of several pieces of skin from small mammals, most likely rodents. The person who created the cap carefully tanned the leather, using the brain-tanning technique. He or she made two slits in the rounded upper part of the cap and inserted "ears," sewing them onto the cap with sinew. The ears are decorated with red ochre. Two larger sections of hide were sewn to this upper section. These two sections have a line of pierced holes for stitches along the lower edge. Archaeologists have speculated that fringe or another larger piece of leather to cover the face may have once been attached here, in this case making the cap a mask. Extensions of twisted cotton yarn are sewn to the interior, possibly to anchor the cap to the wearer's head. While we do not have an exact date for this cap, the presence of the cotton yarn suggests it dates from at least 750 AD.
The second article is a legging fragment (object #O4456.1) collected by A.F. Wilmarth. Leggings were made in a tubular form, tapering from top to bottom. All of those recovered by archaeologists so far were constructed using the knotless netting technique, which is similar to crocheting. Almost all of the leggings found to date are made from human hair, like this fragment, which was sewn together with yucca fiber "thread." Leggings were probably worn in the winter for warmth. The context and date of this fragment are unknown.
Artifacts like these clothing objects help researchers to understand what daily life may have been like for past civilizations. You can see more Mesa Verde artifacts in our exhibit Living West.
Assistant Curator of Culture and Community, NAGPRA Liaison
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