ASM MASTER CLASS: The Fiber of our Being: The Origins and Antiquity of Perishable Material Culture

ASM MASTER CLASS: The Fiber of our Being: The Origins and Antiquity of Perishable Material Culture

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Event Location

This is an in person class with limited space.

Saturdays, January 6, 13, 20, and 27, 2024
9:00-11:00 am. In Person. ASM Room 309

In this four-part series, Dr. Edward A. Jolie will take you through the global origins and antiquity of perishable material culture (wood and hide working, string, basketry, textiles, etc.), going as far back as the evidence allows (millions of years ago in Africa and beyond) and moving forward in time up through the technologies that likely facilitated the early colonization of the Americas by Native Americans. This is meant to be the first of a two-part series—a subsequent Master Class will focus on the diversity of perishable technological traditions in the Americas that is apparent over the last 10,000 years.

Session One: Perishable Material Culture in Archaeology
Cross-cultural research attests to the critical importance of objects fabricated by humans from organic materials such as plants, animal skins and feathers, as well as how common they were among non-industrial societies. Defined by their susceptibility to natural processes of decay in most archaeological contexts, perishable material culture remains one of the most important, if not also elusive, aspects of ancient lives and lifeways that archaeologists seek to understand. This session serves as an introduction to the course, outlining key terms and concepts, exploring the nature of perishability, and reviewing the sources of data that archaeologists must rely upon to reconstruct these “invisible” traditions in the deep past.

Session Two: The Naked Years: Perishable Technologies and Human Evolution
Understanding the earliest origins of perishable technologies in the human lineage millions of years ago requires interrogation of a sparse and complicated archaeological record. This session reviews the available evidence, which is largely indirect, and highlights the timing of key technological developments in stone and bone industries with implications for the production of perishable material culture. What emerges is not only an increased appreciation of the sophistication of some of the earliest attested perishable manufactures but the need for us to adopt a perspective that foregrounds humanity’s deep coevolutionary relationships with plants and animals.

Session Three: A String Revolution? Venus Wear and Upper Paleolithic Perishables
Relative to preceding periods, the archaeological record suggests a profusion of perishable technologies and products after about 50,000 years ago. Do these data amount to what Elizabeth Wayland Barber calls the “String Revolution?” What do sartorial observations about the so-called Venus Figurines tell us about human adaptation and the emergence of social boundaries and identities? This session examines the Upper Paleolithic perishable artifact record, including some of the latest scientific discoveries that challenge the notion that textiles and baskets are uniquely and solely attributable to Homo sapiens.

Session Four: Perishables and the Terminal Pleistocene Peopling of the Americas
It is increasingly clear that an astounding array of sophisticated perishable technologies were in existence by about 20,000 years ago that were integral to humans’ ability to successfully colonize new landscapes. In this final session, we explore the likely roles of perishable technologies among such pioneer populations and consider how the first Americans adapted to new landscapes with these tools. Against the backdrop of the most recent developments in the scientific study of the peopling of the Americas, such as the White Sands, NM, trackways, we examine the following: How do textiles, baskets, and related technologies augment archaeological understandings of the peopling of the Americas? What might these technologies have looked like and how do they relate to the earliest perishable artifacts that we do have evidence for in the Americas?


About your professor: Edward A. Jolie is an anthropological archaeologist with broad interests in the Native American archaeology and ethnology of the Americas. Much of his research has focused on the study of perishable (organic) material culture (e.g., string, nets, footwear, baskets, and textiles) to address a wide range of anthropological questions including those that bear on technological innovation and change, social interaction and identities, and population movement. He is particularly interested in the social learning context and cultural transmission of crafting knowledge, and how that informs stylistic patterning in the archaeological record. Beyond perishable technologies, Dr. Jolie has long held an interest in Native American-Anthropologist relations, repatriation matters, and broader ethical practice within the discipline. Being of mixed Oglala Lakota (Sioux) and Hodulgee Muscogee (Creek) ancestry, and an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma, he strives to cultivate collaborative relationships and research partnerships with Native Americans and other descendant communities.


$150 ASM members or $180 non members
Free campus parking.
Amount paid over $100 is a tax-deductible gift.
Proceeds support Dr. Jolie's research projects.
Refund policy: credit card payments incur a 3% fee, imposed on us by the credit card companies, that cannot be refunded.

Call or email to register.

Event Contacts

Darlene Lizarraga