Rare woolly dog hair found in Northwest blanket

SEATTLE — A tear in an ancient blanket has revealed a rare piece of local history.

Researchers with Seattle’s Burke Museum recently discovered a museum blanket containing extinct woolly dog fur.

Woolly dogs were raised by the endemic Coast Salish people for more than a thousand years. The Salish people raised the small, long-haired dogs as a source of hair for textile production. The dogs were raised in pens and kept from breeding with other dogs.

The woolly dog’s hair was thick, and spun into yarn in a sophisticated practice, researchers with the Burke Museum said.

The dogs became extinct less than 150 years after the first European explorers landed on the Northwest Coast due to inbreeding, and the prevalence of easier weaving material.

Most objects containing the rare fur were lost or destroyed, researchers with the museum said. The blanket containing the fur would have remained obscure, researchers said, if not for a tear that revealed some of the hair.

“As soon as I saw the warp yarns exposed by the tear, I knew this was an unusual blanket,” said Liz Hammond-Kaarremaa, a Coast Salish spinning expert.

The blanket is made of multiple different materials, including woolly dog hair. Though items found with woolly dog hair are extremely rare, the Makah Museum in Neah Bay also has examples of the extinct hair.

Visitors can see the blanket on June 17-8 as part of the opening weekend for the Burke’s newest exhibit, Testing, Testing 1-2-3.