GENERAL POTTERY DESCRIPTIONS
By Dan King, March 2005
learning pottery types, keep in mind that there are always exceptions
to the rules. Pottery designs and forms tend to overlap. While some
potters in a village or pueblo may begin producing new forms and/or
designs, others probably continued producing vessels the traditional
way, until the demand for the traditional vessels passed. This could
easily have taken up to 25 years or more. This is why all dates for all types are approximate. Many pottery types were named on
the basis of difference in design. Usually the reason
a new type was named on the basis of design alone, is when the design marked a temporal
shift in time, or was unique to a specific regional location. However, most archaeologists
named pottery types based on the technological differences. Some of
these differences include, method of manufacture (paddle and anvil thinned,
or only scraped), form, temper, and texturing. However, the most
basic technological differences were the different colors of pottery.
This most commonly includes background color. Two common pottery type
examples from Anasazi/Mogollon culture are Puerco Black-on-White, and
Puerco Black-on-Red. Both Puerco Black-on-White, and Puerco Black-on-Red,
employs the same color of paint, share many design styles, vessel forms,
etc., yet they are known as different types. The only difference between
these two types are the white and red background colors. There are also
many other well known examples from several different cultures, that
mirror this same point. Paint and background colors often vary in light
to dark shades of the named color. Many named "Redwares"
are actually "Orangewares", often "Whitewares" are
In this guide I only try to list types and/or varieties that have technical attributes observable on the surface of vessels, not so much the interiors or paste recipes. Wood lists no less than twelve varieties of Gila Red based primarily on temper, (paste) (Wood,1987;166). Quite often temper is not easily identifiable and one would need a micro-scope or magnifying glass and familiarity of mineralogy to determine most of these varieties. You would also need to break a whole vessel to see the temper of many types or varieties.
The exceptions are popular published types, such as the earlier Mesa Verde Whitewares, and Little Colorado Whitewares, etc. When it comes to ceramics I am personally a "lumper" and a "splitter". I am a "splitter" in the sense that if the primary background, or any paint color of a vessel was intended technologically to be different from other types, then, in my opinion, it is a different type, and should be described as such no matter how rare (Emil Haury named Sweetwater Polychrome based on 6 sherds and 1 vessel, Haury 1976;219-220). I am also a "lumper" in the sense that I believe in the type-variety concept, especially when it comes to "temper-types". "Temper-types" is a label I have given to "types" that were named based on the type of temper used in the paste, even though the exterior colors, styles, and forms are exactly the same as a broader common type. I believe in describing these "temper types" as varieties of existing types, however I do not believe they should be described as separate wares and types. Doing so only confuses the picture. In my opinion, most pottery types should be identifiable by looking at its unbroken surface, differences in paste recipes or core color should be varieties.
If one "type" of pottery has the same surface technical attributes of another "type" that is geographically its neighbor, was generally made during the same time period, and visually (without the aid of tools) appear indistinguishable from one another, then the type that was first named in the earliest literature should be the name for "both types". If upon closer examination, perhaps with the aid of tools, a difference of temper or paste recipe is discovered, then a regional variety name should be proposed. An example of this all ready in the literature is Hohokam "Sacaton Red-on-Buff, Safford Variety" (Wood, 1987;82). Sacaton Red-on-Buff in the Safford area was made from a different clay that generally wasn't porous and has a slightly different look to it, often darker compared to Phoenix area Sacaton Red-on-Buff.
Method of manufacture may be another diagnostic trait in identifying varieties. Crown points out under forming techniques that in studying 343 Salado Polychrome vessels that 89% were made by the "coil and scrape" method, 10% were paddle and anvil thinned, and 1% were made by the pinching method (Crown, 1994;41-42).
The problem many archaeologists create when naming and describing pottery types is that they often base it on pottery from a single site or excavation, when the same general type may encompass a huge area. Doing a petrographic analysis on sherds of the same type from different sites are bound to reveal site to site differences. For example, one site may use an average of 60% crushed quartz as a temper, while another site a mile away, may use an average of 20%. Is this a valid reason to name a new type and ware? Not only are there likely to be site to site differences, but there is also likely to be potter to potter differences at the same site. If there were several potters at a site, there may have been personal preferences as to what types or amounts of temper used. I am reasonably sure of this as I have had the pleasure of doing some excavating on a privately owned Hohokam Tanque Verde Phase site near Tucson. After cleaning and studying thousands of Tanque Verde decorated sherds, I noticed that most had sand temper, many had Biotite (gold mica) temper, and many had Muscovite (silver mica) temper. At first, I thought the mica-tempered varieties were tradewares, but then I recalled some of the stone artifacts we found on floors of rooms and realized that they seemed to be too soft to have been used as abraders or polishers. Many of the stones had been ground or abraded on one or more sides, and concluded they possibly were being crushed and/or ground for temper used in pottery manufacture. Some of these soft stones had much Biotite (gold mica) and others had much Muscovite (silver mica). Using sand temper would require less labor than having to crush or grind stone with gold or silver mica in it, however vessels with much gold or silver mica will sparkle beautifully outdoors in the sun. My conclusion is that potters often added gold or silver mica to the temper for decorative as well as strengthening purposes. Tanque Verde ceramics tempered with Biotite have been described and named Pantano Red-on-Brown (Hayden, Danson, Wallace, 1957;224-226), however, Pantano Red-on-Brown hasn't seemed to gain much acceptance within the archaeological community.
Archaeologists in the past have shared some of these views. For example, George S. Cattanach Jr. wrote this when describing Chapin Black-on-White in the Mesa Verde area:
"La Plata Black-on-White, Lino Black-on-Gray, and Chapin Black-on-White are essentially one pottery type, with Chapin being the local manifestation. Types of paint and temper definitely vary, at least in proportion, from one type to another, but all are Basketmaker III pottery types which undoubtedly extend into Pueblo I. There may be subtle temporal and spatial differences between the types, but these should not be allowed to obscure the broad relationship.". Later in the same paragraph he also states: "I feel that adding another name to the literature confuses the picture and would much prefer to call this pottery La Plata or Lino (redefined). If it is necessary to separate the local development from that found elsewhere in the San Juan area, I would prefer to call it La Plata Black-on-White: Chapin Variety.". He goes on to say: "A similar situation exists with many other pottery types, both black-on-white and plain or corrugated, where the broad relationships are being buried under a mass of regional names. The local names are necessary for analysis, but surely there must be a better way of handling the taxonomy than by merely adding one name after another for every minor although perhaps significant variation of a "basic" type found. The type-variety concept offers a possible way out, but many archeologists have objected to tying up the word "variety" in this manner, and thus effectively deleting a rather useful word from the archeological vocabulary. It would seem to be a step in the right direction, however. It is certainly useful to be able to designate regional varieties, such as Mesa Verde and Chaco, but of course the designation does not have to be made part of the type name. In any case, the type descriptions need to be expanded to include these regional variants." (Cattanach Jr. 1980;210).
Little Colorado Whiteware has been described as a separate ware from Tusayan Whiteware based on a darker paste and sherd temper (Kelley Hays-Gilpin, 1998;59). Because identical design styles and vegetal paints are used on both whitewares, undamaged pieces may be practically impossible to tell apart. I think of Little Colorado Whiteware as a regional or spatial variety of Tusayan Whiteware based on its sherd temper. Cibola Whiteware is described as having a light paste that may have a carbon streak (Kelley Hays-Gilpin, 1998;59). As far as paste color goes, I feel it must be regarded as a very broad and general diagnostic determination that is not very reliable, at least, in the wares I have studied of which include Salado wares, Hohokam wares, White Mountain Redwares, Cibola Whitewares, and others. I have seen light and dark paste examples in most all wares, and not just a light gray carbon streak, but a dark gray - verging on the color black (N4/ or darker compared to the Munsell Color Chips). You can see examples of paste color variation for the types Fourmile Polychrome, St. Johns Polychrome, and Tularosa Black-on-White in Cunkle, 1994: color plates 43, 44, 45. Firing temperatures usually dictate paste color in most wares, however, I have not studied Tusayan and Little Colorado Whitewares enough to know if the paste color can be used as a reliable diagnostic determination or not. Sherd temper is likely the only valid difference between Tusayan and Little Colorado White Wares. Because I have seen Little Colorado Whiteware types (and others) published in several books (indicating popular acceptance as types), I will list and describe them as such in this guide.
Something to consider in the future is perhaps regional varieties should be described as such for minor paste differences that are proven to be distinctive for specific regions of a known type. Perhaps a rare manipulation of the finish and/or design background colors of a known type should be described as varieties or variants of the type itself. For example, in the series of Puerco Valley Redware archaeologists recently have named two different types, Showlow Black-on-Red A.D. 1030 to 1200+, and Showlow Black-on-Red Corrugated A.D. 1050 to 1200 (Hays-Gilpin, van Hartesveldt 1998;155,160) These two types date approximately the same with the only difference being the manipulation of the exterior finish. Although this guide lists them as separate types because of the ever so slight date range, the corrugated "type" is likely a variant of Showlow Black-on-Red. You can see in this guide under the Cibola Whiteware section there are several corrugated black-on-white variants or varieties listed beginning with White Mound A.D. 675 and ending with Pinedale A.D. 1325. The number of corrugated variants will likely grow within several more wares.
In the Mogollon Brown Wares section of this guide I have only listed two types for Alma Plain, these are Alma Plain, A.D. 300 - 1300+ (Wood, 1987;164) and Alma Neckbanded, A.D. 665-910 (Oppelt, 2008;2). Many archaeologists have listed many other types of Alma Plain depending on how Alma Plain was manipulated or finished. These are: Alma Grooved, Alma Incised, Alma Knobby, Alma Neckbanded, Alma Neck Indented, Alma Plain, Alma Plain Polished, Alma Punched, Alma Rough, Alma Scored, and Alma Smudged (Oppelt, 2008;2). Most of these "types" I have listed as varieties for Alma Plain. The reason I listed Alma Neckbanded as a separate type is because it is specific in time and all the other varieties or variants dated approximately the same.
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