Several ancient American peoples had cloth as fine as and similar to silk. At the time of the Spanish conquest, natives in Mexico would gather cocoons from a type of wild silkworm and spin the thread into expensive cloth. People in the Yucatan would also spin the silky floss from the pod of the ceiba tree (or silk-cotton tree) into a soft, delicate cloth called kapok. The silky fiber of the wild pineapple plant was also prized in tropical America, yielding a fine, durable cloth. The Aztecs made a silk like fabric using hair from the bellies of rabbits. Some cotton specimens excavated at Teotihuacan, dating to A.D. 400, have been described as even, very fine, and gossamer-thin. As for linen, the flax plant from which the cloth is made was apparently not known in ancient America. However, several fabrics that look and feel like European linen were woven from native plants. The yucca plant and the leaves of the ixtle (agave plant) both yield fibers that make fine, linen-like cloth. A cloth made by stripping bark from the fig tree, soaking it, and pounding it also has some of the characteristics of linen.” [Source John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., and Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985]
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: Seip Mound
Seip Mound State Memorial Park is one of the five noncontiguous sites that make up the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. The other four sites are Hopeton Earthworks, Hopewell Mound Group, High Banks Works, and the Mound City Group. At a number of sites in Ohio, Native Americans of this era constructed earthen walls in the shape of immense, geometric shapes, typically consisting of two circular figures and a square. To give you an idea of the size, the embankment walls were 10,000 feet in length and enclosed 121 acres. When surveyed in 1848, the Seip Earthworks looked like the illustration above.
All the mounds within the Seip Earthworks were used to inter the remains of individuals, most of whom had been cremated. However at the base of one of the two great mounds in the large circle’s center, there was a log crypt.
This burial chamber contained thousands of pearls, so many that newspaper accounts of the era referred to the tomb as the “great pearl burial”. Many other fine artifacts were also interred in this chamber.
The individuals in the crypt apparently wore or were draped with a linen burial shroud. At the time of the excavation this linen was said to resemble the weave, texture, and color of pioneer-style, homespun linen. I used to imagine woodland Indians dressing exclusively in leather and animal skins. However early settlers have described the Native Americans of their era as wearing colorful fabrics. The Hopewell Indians lived over a thousand years before these settlers, but apparently even their fabric employed colorful dyes. Scientists are now using techniques developed in forensic laboratories to learn more about the colors and dyes used on these ancient textiles.