Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


Honouring the dead is a universal principle that has been evidenced since the dawn of time. Although burial of the dead has not been experienced universally, ritual burial practices have been widespread throughout millennia and it is through examination of burial sites that insight is gained into the manner in which tribute was paid to the dead. When humans became self-aware, understanding that there was a transition between life and the known world, to death and the unknown, those cultures that practiced burial rituals ensured that the dead were well equipped for what may lay ahead.

This paper discusses textile and other surface embellishments found on Native American artefacts. Emphasizing the widespread practice of burying the dead with decorated garments and headdresses for power, magic, and ritual purposes, reference is made to the Californian West Coast Chumash peoples to describe symbolic embellishments found in a Chumash burial site, as well as the Adena peoples whose elaborate burial cult rituals became widespread throughout the Midwestern and Eastern Native Americas through extensive trade and cultural assimilation. Evidential artefacts from the Augustine Burial Mound in Miramichi, New Brunswick shows a strong link with the Adena and illustrates how widespread the Adena (and later Hopewell) burial cult became. Photographs of grave goods magnify the textile materials found within the Augustine Mound and these are compared and contrasted with other artefacts from an historical perspective, the ceremonial and ritual context in which these artefacts may have been created as forms of empowerment and symbolism, and the religious, political and ethical constructs within the selected Native American cultural experiences.

The existence of chiefdoms and stratified social systems is evidenced in prehistoric textiles associated with mummies and burial mounds, through examination of fibre characteristics, dyes, surface embellishments, and style. Burial mound textiles throughout the Americas hold decorative elements that include animal hair, metals, shells, bone, and precious and semiprecious stones to adorn clothing and headdresses, and these embellishments were intended to communicate messages of ritual, magic, and power.