SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology are using 3-D imaging and other modern tools to reveal the history of Lakota artifacts and test how to ensure the pieces’ authenticity through the use of invisible marks.
Metallurgical engineering professors Grant Crawford and Jon Kellar said the idea to study American Indian works was borne out of a program that helps undergraduate students do higher-level research. While engaging Native American students, they learned about the Indian Arts and Craft Act of 1990 that’s intended to protect historic pieces from counterfeiters, Crawford said.
That led to collaboration with the Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which has an extensive collection of Native American art and relationships with Lakota elders who provided knowledge about historic pieces, he said.
By using 3-D imaging, researchers can look at items without disturbing them, which was a concern of elders because of the spiritual connection some pieces have to native people. For example, researchers learned more about a fragile child’s moccasin from the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre and peered inside a century-old pouch without opening it, Crawford said.
“We learned this from talking with elders, opening the pouch, even if you don’t damage it and put it back the way it was, that has some cultural sensitivities,” said Crawford.
The researchers have also started testing how to put invisible marks on artwork and other valuable pieces to prove they’re authentic.
Kellar said they embedded invisible QR codes on mock eagle feathers that are visible only with a specific wavelength of light. The idea is to help Native Americans protect their creative works, he said.
“They want us to do this,” Kellar said. “They see value in this.”
The effort includes staff at the Center for Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology on the Rapid City campus, which is developing new ways to guard against forged money, pharmaceuticals, electronics and other items.
Counterfeiting of native art is a huge business, even with the 1990 law, and fake items cut into the livelihood of legitimate Native American artists, many of whom live below the poverty line, said Mary Bordeaux, formerly of the Heritage Center and now curator of the Indian Museum of North America at Crazy Horse Memorial.
“So when a buyer goes to purchase something, they can say, ‘Yes, this definitely was made by a native person and it’s real and it’s not just someone trying to make money and capitalize on native culture,’” said Bordeaux, a Lakota from the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
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