Archaeology Goes Hollywood: OAS Shawls Make Film Debut

The shining talents of the employees at the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies and members of Friends of Archaeology will soon be coming to a silver screen near you—in a new feature film, Here, by famed director Robert Zemeckis featuring Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks.

For the past several weeks, OAS educator and archaeologist Mary Weahkee (Comanche/Santa Clara Pueblo), her grandchildren and several OAS employees, interns and volunteers have been hard at work creating a six-by-two-foot turkey feather shawl to be featured in the film. Another team of OAS supporters has also spent hours crafting an additional eight-by-two- foot rabbit fur shawl.

Both shawls will be showcased as traditional costumes in the upcoming film, which in addition to Hanks, stars Kelly Reilly, Robin Wright and Paul Bettany. Director Zemeckis is best known for his directorial work on the Back to the Future trilogy, Forest Gump and Contact.

Currently in production in the United Kingdom, Here is based on a 2014 graphic novel written and illustrated by Richard McGuire. The work features the comings and goings of people throughout history, in a single room, over thousands of years, from 500 BCE to 2033 CE.

OAS staff and volunteers were given three weeks to complete the two shawls. The turkey feather shawl required the creation of several hundred feet of yucca cordage, which Weahkee and Friends of Archaeology board member Eric Blinman wound, by hand, over the course of a few days. "Our legs looked like hamburger meat," says Weahkee.

The pelts of a least 28 rabbits had to be cut into narrow strips for the production of one shawl. The turkey feather shawl required the plucking of a large number of turkeys, yielding thousands of feathers.

"Only one person can wind feathers at a time," Weahkee says. "I was only able to do maybe ten to 15 feet a day. I was up until four or five o'clock in the morning winding cord, winding feathers."

Custom-made wooden frame looms were created for weaving each piece, and both were completed in early March. Soon after, they were carefully packaged and shipped to the film production crew, arriving in the UK in near-record time.

A release date for Here is yet to be announced, but when filming comes to an end, the shawls will be returned to OAS, where they will be used in educational outreach programs.

Join Friends of Archaeology

You don’t have to be a scientist to experience the fascinating archaeology of New Mexico and the greater Southwest. Membership in Friends of Archaeology is free with a Museum of New Mexico Foundation membership and is your opportunity to dig deep into the past while supporting the Office of Archaeological Studies.

Members enjoy exclusive invitations to interact with archaeologists in an annual series of stimulating statewide field trips, lectures, volunteer fieldwork and other activities.

A Foundation membership is required before joining a Friends group. If you are currently a Foundation member and would like to join FOA, please call 505.982.6366 ext. 100.


Images: [Top] Mary Weahkee (Comanche/Santa Clara Pueblo), Office of Archaeological Studies educator and archaeologist, sorts feathers for a turkey feather shawl to be worn in the movie Here. Photo by Melissa Martinez. [Bottom] Mary Weahkee (Comanche/Santa Clara Pueblo) models her handmade turkey feather shawl. Photo by Melissa Martinez.

This article and images are from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Summer 2022.