The Excavation and Repair of Betatakin
NPS Logo



Brushes (pl. 39, 1-3).—The three specimens illustrated are composed of what appears to be cedar bark, completely charred (1), trimmed yucca leaves (2), and wire grass (3). Each is tied with a shred of yucca leaf. Brushes were employed in combing one's hair and in sweeping floors and, often enough, the two ends of a single specimen served these two entirely unlike purposes.

Cordage.—As is well known, most cliff-dweller cord was made of yucca fiber, that handy material so generously distributed throughout the greater part of the Southwest. The bundles figured in Plate 39, 4, 5, are of an unidentified species of apocynum and yucca, respectively. A second hank of yucca cord is embedded in a bit of adobe flooring, marked by the imprints of willow (312257). In addition, we have the usual number of scraps of feather-wrapped yucca cord; a tasseled fragment, square braided, of eight 2-ply cotton strands (312272); several cord fragments made from human hair (312275); a bit consisting of two strands of hair twined with one of yucca fiber (312274); and several knotted scraps of twisted buffalo hair (312281).16 Bundles of human hair, tied with yucca shreds and perhaps intended for use in cord manufacture, or for weaving bags and other fabrics, are also in the collection.

16Kidder and Guernsey (1919, p. 118) note the finding of a scrap of buffalo hide, with the hair still on, in their ruin 7 and point out the possibility of its having been brought in by Navajos. Biologists have not yet included the Kayenta district in the known, former range of the mountain buffalo.

Mats.—From the Betatakin cave débris came a small section of cedar bark matting, bound with a simple over-and-under lacing of yucca leaf shreds (312321); a similar fragment composed wholly of yucca leaves (312409) and several pieces of a larger mat, twill woven of rushes (312395).

Cloth (pl. 39, 6-9).—Bits of cotton fabrics, often patched and repatched, are present in nearly every cliff-dwelling rubbish heap. Most of these rags show a plain checkerboard weave, although their component threads may vary in size and compactness. Our rag series includes four specimens of twilled work (312259), two of which appear to be fragments of headbands, and a cotton tassel whose cord, seven-sixteenths inch in diameter, consists of a core of cloth strips inclosed by a covering in which three parallel strands were braided as one.

Our only example of twined textile is woven of human hair. A single specimen of coiled work without foundation has what appears to be buffalo hair twisted in with some species of apocynum fiber.17

17A similar scrap (303262) in the Betatakin series obtained through exchange with the University of Utah includes both cotton and apocynum strings in which is twisted whitish mammal hair, as yet unidentified, that may he either deer or mountain sheep, and also the brown hair of some undetermined animal.

Sandals.—Two types of weaving, twilled and wickerwork, are represented in the 11 sandals or sandal fragments we collected at Betatakin. Of the former, there are but two examples, both made from narrow yucca leaves. (Pl. 40, 1, 3.) The larger is the finer and more tightly woven; its component elements were plaited over-two under-two until the edge was reached, when each strand was tightened, drawn forward under-four, and reintroduced from the lower side, thus creating a slightly thicker, rounded selvage. As the weaving progressed from toe to heel, leaf ends were brought out on the sole, there to be clipped and later frayed through wear into a fibrous pad. (Pl. 40, 2.) To complete the weaving, each strand was tied in a single knot under the heel.

The smaller sandal, woven in the same technique, is a bit cruder and might well be the work of an adolescent. On the border, each leaf was brought forward under-two and reintroduced. The toe ends were mostly drawn out on top, intertwined, and left to form a knotty pad. In finishing the heel, one strand was brought squarely across and the others looped about it, half above and half below, after which their ends were clipped. As a final touch, two strips, tied together on the middle left edge, were laced back and forth across the sandal, one to end at the toe; the other at the heel.

Although our wickerwork sandals (pl. 41, 1-3) present an entirely different appearance, one from the other, the method of their manufacture was much the same. All are made of yucca. Coarse leaves were looped and tied to form four warp strands; back and forth across these, over one and under the next, the weft element was woven. This might be narrow yucca leaves (2, 3) or a sort of bast of finely shredded leaves (1). Apparently to bind these weft strands together, strips of the same material were sometimes laced through longitudinally between the warps, as in 3. The extreme to which such stitching can go is illustrated by Figure 20.


One fragment in the lot is woven of yucca bast over four warp strands of coarse yucca cord.18

18For an excellent analysis of wickerwork and twilled technique in sandal weaving, see Kidder—Guernsey, 1919, pp. 101-107.

Basketry.—In our 1917 Betatakin collection, basketry is represented by the two specimens figured in Plate 42 and by several fragments (312394) of similar vessels. The ring basket (1), a very common sort of receptacle among cliff dwellers of the Kayenta district, is woven of trimmed yucca leaves in simple twilled pattern; that is, each weft element alternately goes over-two, then under-two warp elements. Construction began at the center and the two primary strands, at right angles to each other, tend naturally to quarter the fabric. Continuing outward from the middle along these two strands, every fourth weft element extends over-three thus to produce the concentric diamond pattern faintly discernible in the illustration. At the rim, the component strands were gathered in pairs and clipped. Each alternate pair was brought over from the outside and tied with its neighbor just below the ring, by thin twined strips of yucca. In this particular specimen, the unpeeled willow forming the hoop had been broken and subsequently repaired with a similar withe, lashed on with more shreds of that most useful plant, the yucca.

As to our coiled specimen (pl. 42, 2) and fragments, little need be said other than that each was woven in the manner described by Kidder and Guernsey19 as "two rod and bundle." In this style, each coil consists of two tiny willow rods, placed side by side with a bundle of fibrous material above and between them. Coiling progressed as the sewing splints were drawn through the middle of the bundle and over the three elements (two rods and bundle) of the coil next above.

191919, p. 110.

In the small series of Betatakin artifacts collected by Professor Cummings and obtained by the United States National Museum through exchange with the University of Utah, are two fragmentary yucca ring baskets of twilled weave. (Pl. 43.) One (1) is woven over-three, under-three, with each sixth element on the quartering strands over-five; the other (2), over-two under-two, as described above. The fragment of a larger ring basket, approximately 15 inches (0.381 m.) in diameter (303269), and part of a coiled specimen, 6-1/2 inches (0.165 m.) in diameter, woven on a single-rod and welt foundation (303270), will also be found in this collection.

Cradles.—During the course of our clearing operations we found a fragment of what might have been a cradle (312396). Uncertainty lies in the fact that the specimen, when in use, obviously was broader than known cradles from the Kayenta district; from the further fact that the reed backing follows the curve of the hoop without apparent interruption. This hoop is an unpeeled oak withe; the reeds were added one at a time, each being bent around the oak frame and lashed with a pair of twined yucca strands.

Plates 44 and 45 show the front and back of a fragmentary cradle of superior construction, exhumed at Betatakin by Professor Cummings in 1909. A peeled oak twig, partly split to aid in bending it to the shape desired, forms the frame. To the under side of this, selected reeds were bound by a single yucca-leaf strand in running coiled stitch.20 Such lashing, and a cornhusk pad that covered it and the reed ends, was subsequently inclosed by twilled weaving (over-three, under-three) of unidentified basketry material. The original dimensions of this exceptional specimen were approximately 12 by 24 inches (0.304 by 0.609 m.).

20The thread crosses the twig, goes down and encompasses two reeds beneath; thence back over the twig and down again to inclose one of the same two reeds and the next beyond; thence back over the twig, and so on.

Two sets of reeds, at right angles to each other, compose the body of the cradle. First to be attached was the transverse series above mentioned, of which 72 elements now remain. Upon these, 26 longitudinal rods were bound in pleasing pattern with two-ply cords of human hair. Close inspection of the illustrations will show the running coiled stitch that binds the outermost stems of the upper set to each one in the lower. The lowermost and each twenty-fifth cross reed above (pl. 45) is fastened to individual rods of the opposite series by a wrapped stitch in which a single cord twines about the horizontal member as it crosses, successively, those placed lengthwise. This method of attachment resulted in a sequence of three rectangles each of which is bisected diagonally by coiled stitching.

It is to be noted that only 2-ply human hair cord was utilized as a sewing element in binding the two sets of reeds which compose the body of the fragmentary cradle before us. But a shred of yucca leaf, looped over several lateral stems, served subsequently for minor repair.

Foodstuffs.—Maize has formed the staple food crop of Pueblo peoples since Basket Maker times. Innumerable cobs appeared in the household rubbish with which Betatakin was terraced; those few we salvaged (312266) average 6-1/2 inches (0.165 m.) and are among the longest. We found also three small red beans (Phaseolus vulgaris—No. 312268)21 and various squash stems, seeds, and fragments of rind (Cucurbita pepo—Nos. 312261, 3, 5). Pinyon nuts, the seeds of desert grasses, and edible roots, such as a species of wild potato that grows abundantly in canyons of the Kayenta district, contributed, each in its proper season, to the products of cultivated gardens. No useful list of the diverse game animals killed for food can be compiled from the handful of worked bones retained.

21This and the following identifications were made by Mr. D. N. Shoemaker, of the Bureau of Plant Industry, U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Figure 21 shows two severed fragments of a gourd vessel. It is understood that to-day, as in prehistoric times, young wild gourds are still eaten by several Southwestern tribes.


<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 26-Jun-2008