Mi'kmaq Textiles Twining Rush and Other Fibres BkCp-1 Site Pictou NS (Curatorial Report #82)

Joleen Gordon


Archaeological site BkCp-1, near Pictou, Nova Scotia, has revealed a great deal of information about the textile skills of the Mi'kmaq people at the turn of the sixteenth century. Securely dated to 1570-1590 AD, the site was discovered by accident during 1955-1956 by Kenneth Hopps. (Figure 1) It consisted of two pits, the first containing the secondary burial of some of the bones of one man. The second pit, also a secondary burial, contained bone fragments of up to six adults (one a woman) and a young child. Lavish offerings accompanied the human remains, including a large supply of copper cooking pots. The presence of copper in the burial pits acted as a biocide, preventing bacteria from breaking down much of the organic material in the site.

Among the organic grave gifts were a rich assortment of textiles and cordage. The larger pieces were carefully preserved by the property owner. Unfortunately, much of the smaller fragments, "over three cubic yards of them", were reburied by Mr. Hopps, who explained he had no means of storing all the material.

Items recovered from the site include textile fragments constructed by twining, plaiting and sewing techniques, using a variety of plant materials. The majority of the fragments, however, are twined. The knowledge of twining techniques and the use of rushes, reeds and grasses as a medium died out among the Mi'kmaq people in Nova Scotia soon after 1600 due to increasing importation of woven fabrics and other goods from Europe. There are no remaining complete artifacts. We have no oral or pictorial evidence of this craft, only a few historical references. Thus the light shed by the BkCp-1 textile fragments on both techniques and media has been invaluable.

This report, the third in a trilogy examining the plant textiles found at theBkCp-1, examines the twined vegetable-fibre fragments and possible rush cordage. In order to place the Mi'kmaq work in its proper context, twined bags of aboriginal people from other parts of North America are discussed first, followed by a review of mat-making, using both twining and weaving techniques. a feel the latter is important, for while there are no examples of what we believe to be matting in the BkCp-1 site, early written accounts allude to the Mi'kmaq use of mats. The BkCp-1twined fragments are then described, followed by an analysis of the step-by step construction of a twined rush bag, based upon the evidence found in the fragments from the site.


Please note: This resource is presented as originally published. The content of older reports may not reflect the current state of knowledge on the topic documented. Please be aware of this when using this resource.




Mi'kmaq textiles twinings; rush BkCp-1 site; Pictou; Nova Scotia; Mi'kmaq Art; Matting; Mi'kmaq Baskets; Indian Art; North America

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