Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Wondrous Prehistoric Net

A Short Historical Trip

As an historian I take short trips back through time nearly every day.  But 2 weeks ago my family and I took a brief trip back into New Mexico history.  A very good friend, Dr. Enid Margolies , had learned that my husband’s daughter, Hillary, was visiting and invited her to a tour of the permanent collection at the Indian Arts and Culture Museum.  Enid is so very knowledgeable about the museum and its collections that I gladly accepted the invitation for all of us.

(Note to all of you: if you are asked to join a museum docent tour, regardless of the museum, do it!  Docents add immeasurable knowledge to any museum visit.  You may think of yourself as an expert but you will be commenting “I never knew that” within the first minutes of your tour.)

But back to our private tour.  The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is part of the New Mexico Museum Foundation and is located on what is known as “Museum Hill”, a short bus ride from Santa Fe Plaza.  They have, as could well be expected, a large, impressive collection which includes many textiles.

But one of my favorites is a large hunting net.  I have spoken about this particular textile several times in lectures.   Kate Peck Kent (1914-1987),  a professor of anthropology, wrote in Prehistoric Textiles of the Southwest   ” in 1960 archeologists working in a cave in southern NM found a prehistoric hunting net that measured 150 feet long and 5 feet high….1.54 miles of cordage, made entirely of human hair and over 19,000 individual knots, weighing 7.25#.  To create a net of this kind required more than 65 full heads of hair.”   I would imagine not many museum-goers would guess the fiber of that net.  The net had never been used and there is some speculation as to the reason it had been stored in the cave.

Humans have been looping and knotting threads since prehistoric times.  Linen nets over 10,000 years old have been unearthed in what is now Switzerland and excavations in other parts of the world have revealed bags, fish nets, hunting snares and mesh garments.

Nets were believed to have the power both to protect and cure and, conversely, to pursue and devour. 

If you are in the Santa Fe area a visit to the museums of the New Mexico Museum Foundation is a must.

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