A collection of plant fiber artifacts woven by inhabitants of Huaca Prieta, a pre-Columbian site of the Late Preceramic Period in northern Peru, is making its way to the laboratory of Dr. James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute. One of the world’s leading authorities in the analysis of basketry, textiles, cordage and other plant fiber-derived artifacts in prehistoric societies, Adovasio recently returned from a two-week excursion in Peru, where he analyzed basketry from recent excavations at Huaca Prieta conducted by Vanderbilt University archaeologist Dr. Tom Dillehay.
Archaeological excavations at Huaca Prieta have revealed a complex mound built in several stages from about 7000 to 4800 years ago. This impressive structure is replete with a massive access ramp and numerous burials. The site is thought to represent one of the earliest examples of emerging cultural complexity in South America.
Adovasio, author of the just republished “Basketry Technology: A Guide to Identification and Analysis,” said his analysis of the Huaca Prieta artifacts will continue at Mercyhurst in the R. L. Andrews Center for Perishables Analysis. Co-founded by Adovasio and his late wife, R.L. Andrews, the newly renovated lab provides an unprecedented research opportunity for the college’s archaeology faculty, undergraduate and graduate students. It will be officially dedicated May 5.
“Mercyhurst’s perishable artifact analysis lab is the only lab of this kind in the hemisphere,” Adovasio said. “Perishables analysis is a small and relatively arcane specialization. Typically what we have learned about prehistoric civilizations comes from the study of durable materials, like stone and ceramics, when, in fact, 95 percent of what people manufactured prehistorically was made out of perishable materials.”
Adovasio will be one of a handful of archaeologists from North America to share his expertise at the “Basketry and Beyond: Constructing Cultures” conference at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, April 14-16. He will deliver the keynote address: “Style, Basketry and Basketmakers Redux: Looking at Individuals through a Perishable Prism.”
Two weeks later, Adovasio and Mercyhurst faculty Dr. Ed Jolie, who currently directs the R.L. Andrews lab, will travel to Sante Fe, N.M., to present at a School for Advanced Research (SAR) seminar on “Fiber Perishable Chronologies in the Great Basin of Western North America.”
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the seminar unites scientists from both universities and museums with research interests in the prehistory of the Great Basin and dating fiber perishable artifacts in order to better establish regional cultural chronologies. The April 26-28 seminar will enable the group to assess their data, consider future investigations and move toward publication.