Fiber technology and weaving in formative-period Gulf Coast cultures


While research has revealed the important role that textiles have played in Mesoamerica from the Classic period through contemporary cultures, few studies have explored the importance of textiles in earlier Mesoamerican cultures. Scant preservation thwarts research on Formative-period cultures such as the Gulf Coast Olmec, for which only a few fragments of cordage and woven mats have yet been recovered. However, considerable additional evidence of textiles is available through other material culture, such as the rich pictorial record of fibers and cloth shown in Olmec sculpture. Further evidence exists in textile-related ceramic artifacts recovered from Gulf Coast sites, and still more evidence can be found through the reevaluation of greenstone artifacts recovered from Gulf Coast sites and "heirloom caches" of Formative-period objects. Careful analysis of the form and iconography of certain types of provenienced greenstone artifacts reveals that these may have served as elite textile-making tools; replication studies confirms their functionality as implements for spinning, weaving, and making cordage. All together, this study suggests that the Gulf Coast Olmec already held not only textiles but textile making in high esteem during the Formative period, foreshadowing the great significance of textiles in later Mesoamerican cultures.


Art and Design

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Ancient Mesoamerica