The Testimony of Hands

Survival: Prehistory—Clothing

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Like baskets, ancient clothing has survived over time only if it has been in a dry, protected place. Ancient clothing was created from fibers derived from plants and animals. Some fibers were deliberately grown (cotton, for example) but for most of the human story, weavers relied on fibers from wild species. Click on the thumbnails to learn more about specific objects and survival techniques.

An ancient shirt...

63.50.123 shirt fragment

The obvious damage to this textile fragment shows what happens to unprotected cloth over time. Most evidence of past clothing disappears long before archaeologists dig in a site.

...and something to wear over it

37.21.34 feather cape

This blanket—only a fragment remains—would have been someone's valued possession during the cold winters of the Four Corners area. During the day, the blanket could be worn as a cape. The feather insulation was once both useful and beautiful, but has mostly vanished over time.


37.13.6, sandal

If you survived your first days in the wilds, your feet would develop calluses. Even so, you'd need a way to protect your feet from sharp rocks, burrs, and other hazards. If you click on the photo, we'll teach you how to make an emergency flip-flop! This sandal is in decent shape because it was left in a dry cave. The damaged heel (right end) was worn through by everyday use, not decomposition.

Snow Goggles

35.35.304, snow goggles

If you're trying to survive in a land of snow and ice, you'll need goggles to block out the "UV" rays and prevent snow blindness. Click on the thumbnail above and learn how to create snow goggles that don't require any glass.

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All content copyright © Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. High-resolution versions of photographs may be ordered from the Maxwell Museum's photo archives. Please make note of the catalogue number. For more information please visit the photo archives web page

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