Frequently Asked Questions about Arizona State Museum's Woven Wonders

April 14, 2016

April 2011

Arizona State Museum's basketry collection is the world's largest. As Mike Jacobs, ASM’s curator of archaeological collections, notes, “We know of no other museum collection larger, more impressive, better documented, or more comprehensively representative of every major indigenous basket-making group in North America.

“Rare and outstanding baskets represent the bulk of this collection," he adds, "but there are other woven objects such as sandals, cradle boards, mats, cordage, and preserved fibers. It also includes weaving-related items such as twigs, seeds, and a myriad of botanicals used in the weaving process. The collection totals about 25,000 objects.”

Diane Dittemore, ethnological collections curator, concurs. “Among the 25,000 objects are roughly 4000 historic and contemporary baskets from all over North America and northern Mexico. The overall documentation is extremely high. ASM’s historic O’odham, Apache, and Seri basketry is unrivaled.”

Which prehistoric cultures are represented?

  • Basketmaker, ancestral Pueblo, Hohokam, Mogollon, Salado, Sinagua.

Which modern-day cultures are represented?

  • From the Southwest: Akimel O’odham (Pima); Western, Chiricahua, Jicarilla, and Mescalero Apaches; Chemehuevi; Cocopah; Havasupai; Hopi; Hualapai; Navajo; Pascua Yaqui; Pueblo; Quechan; Southern Paiute; Tohono O’odham; Yavapai; Zuni.
  • From California: Cahuilla, Maidu, Mission, Miwok, Panamint, Pomo,Yokuts, Yurok-Karok.
  • From the Northwest Coast and Alaska: Aleut, Eskimo, Salish, Makah, Nootka, Tlingit.
  • From the Great Lakes/Eastern Woodlands: Micmac, Ojibwe, Passamaquoddy.
  • From the Southeast: Chitimacha, Coushatta.
  • From northern Mexico: Guarijio, Mayo, Seri, Tarahumara, Tepehuan, Yaqui.

What is the oldest example in this collection?

Among the collection's oldest objects are hundreds of ancient Basketmaker (ca. 1000 B.C.E.850 C.E.) sandals made by a combination of plain weave and alternate pair twining of finely spun yucca fiber cordage.

The raised, sometimes colored, designs on the soles of these sandals, in addition to being an expression of the makers' artistic sensibilities, may also have served to uniquely identify sandals and their weavers.


What is the newest example in this collection?

The museum’s newest acquisition is a contemporary Tohono O’odham yucca basket by Loretta Saraficio. It was the winner of the Hartman H. Lomawaima Memorial Acquisition Award at the museum’s 2011 Southwest Indian Art Fair.


What is the largest example in the collection?

The museum’s largest example is a stunning Yavapai or Western Apache coiled olla that is almost 3.5 feet tall. It probably was made just after 1900 by an anonymous but extremely talented weaver who may have lived at San Carlos. 


What is the rarest object in the collection

The rarest ethnographic basket may well be a Mescalero Apache twined tus, or pitched water jar, with remarkable documentation.

Pasted to the side of this jar is a hand-written note that reads: Esa hoya fue quitada a lys yndios mescaleros en la Sierra de Guadalupe, Texas en año de 1860 por Crecencio Roybal de San Elizario, Texas. (This jar was taken from the Mescalero Indians in the Guadalupe Mountains, Texas, in the year of 1860 by Crescencio Roybal of San Elizario, Texas).



What can we learn from studying basketry and other weavings?

Prehistoric and historic weavings can tell us a lot about what kinds of food the people gathered, stored and ate; where they gathered resources; what they wore; how homes were furnished; how they expressed themselves creatively and spiritually; and many other details of their lives. No two cultures produce basketry with the same technical skill, detail, or design. These attributes tend to be local and culturally determined. Deciphering the details of technology, material choice, and design on a basket can provide tremendous information about its maker.