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Artist Kelsey Sparrow explores conservation work at the UBC Museum of Anthropology

During his internship at the museum, Sparrow concentrated mainly on the wickerwork preserved in the archaeological “wet sites”

It is deeply thrilling to hold a piece of history left behind hundreds or even thousands of years ago in your hands, but especially when the piece comes from your ancestors.

An intern at the UBC’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA), Kelsey Sparrow had the opportunity to do exactly that: keep a 400-800-year-old cedar root basket discovered in the Musqueam Reservation, in the mud banks at the mouth of the river. Fraser River.

Coast artist Salish, Musqueam and Ojibwe, who grew up in Ladner, has mainly focused on “trash in wet sites” since the start of the MOA’s indigenous internship program last October, and the cedar root basket they’ve had. in hand during their first week is part of that.

“Wet site archeology is a whole field of archeology where things have been preserved in very low oxygen environments, [like in mud around bodies of water]sometimes for thousands of years, “says Sparrow.

Some of the MOA wet site baskets have been carbon dated to be 4,000 years old, preserved by environments that prevent bacteria from eating organic materials that would otherwise be broken down over time

“The problem with wet site baskets and any other wet site archeology is that as soon as it is unearthed, you need to take steps to take care of it right away. Because if it dries up, it basically disintegrates, “they say.

Compared to other more established conservation practices, wet site conservation is still under development and therefore does not yet have a documented protocol.

“One of [MOA’s] the goal is to develop some sort of protocol around it so that communities around BC, if they have wicker in wet sites, can have a protocol to follow to keep it on their own in their cultural institutions, “says Sparrow.

Storing wicker in wet sites also offers a glimpse into historical weaving practices.

“Some of the artists who come to visit the MOA are weavers, and sometimes they look at old baskets and realize, ‘Wait, this was woven in a completely different way than we do.’ And they’ll figure it out just by looking at how to recreate it, ”says Sparrow.

The uncovered baskets also provide visual evidence of land and territory occupation.

“The ethics of how all these objects came into the collection, I struggle sometimes, but I feel it is more important that the natives work to take care of these objects and to be stewards,” they say. “It’s just nice to be able to take care of them the way they should be taken care of … It’s really rewarding.”

If you are interested in Kelsey Sparrow’s art and what they are doing, check out their website at:

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