Saturday, January 23, 2010

Investigating the use of goat and dog wool in Coast Salish blankets

First, a little summary background on the Coast Salish Wool Dog. There are many Coast Salish blankets in museums around the world. These are said to be made of Mountain Goat wool. Someone, somewhere (I'll have to find a good reference and check this out in more detail) analyzed the fibre from one blanket to figure out what the animal producing the fibre ate (carbon isotope analysis) and found that their diet consisted of 50-70% marine in origin. It is unlikly that Mountain Goat ate that much, if any, fish, so they are ruled out. So if these blankets aren't necessarily all Mtn Goat, what are they made of? 

In addition, there are many Coast Salish territories (Vancouver Island and Puget Sound for example) where Moutain Goat are not found, and from these areas we have Salish Oral history which establishes the existance of specially bred dogs used for their hair as wool in blankets.  

We also have records from some of the early explorers of the area mentionaing these dogs Capt. Vancouver wrote in 1792 while at Bainbridge Island: "...the dogs belonging to this tribe of Indians were numerous, and much resembled those of Pomerania, though in general somewhat larger. They were all shorn as close to the skin as sheep in England..." and the Spaniards while anchored off Nanaimo mention that the dogs "of moderate size, resembling those of the English breed, with very thick coats, and usually white."  

Paul Kane (see the blog posting below) sketched and painted what could be a Salish wool dog. And George Gibbs, surveyor, collector and interpretor/translater in the mid 1800's donated his pet wool dog 'Mutton' to the Smithsonian on its death (see the posting further down).  

So we have oral history, the written word, some possible visuals referring to the dog, and perhaps a preserved dog. And you would think there has to be some dog blankets in existance somewhere but how does one identify dog wool from goat wool? Perhaps some of these goat wool blankets were really dog wool or a combination.

In 2006, 'Mutton' the supposedly Salish wool dog, was found and dusted off and the USA National Museum of Natural History provided Anne Murray, a  Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Textile Conservation, with the hair of 'Mutton', some of goat, along with some fibres from Coast Salish blankets. The idea was to try and identify what a Salish dog hair fibre looks like and how it can be distinguished from goat fibre. This was done for visual identification using microscopy (scanning and polarized light) and then DNA analysis (mitochondrial). Both the structure of the hairs and the DNA anaylsis support that the blankets did have both Moutain Goat and dog wool. The picture on he left is from a poster overviewing the research done and shows Goat hair on the top and Mutton's dog hair on the bottom.

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