Pottery is made from clay that is fired to harden it.
Temper is sometimes added to the clay to help hold it together during
shaping and firing. Temper consists of: fiber, charcoal, sand, grit,
bone, and grog (ground up sherds).
Decoration was likely done for a variety of reasons. In some cases
religion may have played a role in decorations, in others it may have
been purely aesthetic or to identify the pot owners group. Decoration
could also have served a functional purpose by allowing a better grip on
a slippery pot or to allow for better heat exchange in cooking vessels.
Temper and decoration are used to identify pottery found
archaeologically because those items changed over time and are often
unique to specific time periods.
Pottery is formed by creating what is called a “pinch pot” where a small
ball of clay is poked with the fingers and modeled into a small bowl
shape. The pinch pot is allowed to dry partially while the rim is kept
moist. A rope of clay is then rolled out and attached to the still moist
rim of the pinch pot after it is roughened up and a thin watery paste of
clay is painted on. The paste and roughening will help the rope and
pinch pot to stick together. The rope is coiled around the rim of the
pot. The two are then pinched and molded together. If a carved paddle is
used for decoration it is smacked on the surface at this time to help
compact the added coil. Once the pot has dried it is not possible to
stamp the surface. Incising, burnishing, and some punctation can be done
when the pot is partially dry. When an added coil has been joined and
dried a new coil can be added and the process continued until the
desired size and shape of pot has been achieved. It is difficult to make
a large pot by just creating a pinch pot since the walls of the vessel
will slump due to gravity while they are wet. The gradual addition of
coils, with drying times, will give the vessel walls strength and allow
for a larger pot to be produced.
Once the pot has dried for several days it can be fired. A small fire is
built and the dry pots are placed around it to be pre-heated. They are
monitored for a darkening of color and a ring tone when tapped, which
indicates that the pots are ready to be placed in the fire. If the pots
are not pre-heated before placing in the fire they may explode due to
steam build-up from moisture trapped within the clay. The pots are
placed in the fire and fuel is added. Frequently the pots will glow red
during the firing. Any areas that are exposed to the air during the
firing may have a tendency to darken. Covering the pots with ashes and
glowing embers will burn this off. Sometimes this burn-off is incomplete
and leaves “fireclouds” or dark areas on the pots surface. After the
fire has gone out and the pots are cool they are removed and cleaned
off. At this point they should be waterproof.
With time the pot may start to break down and cracks may appear. The
more it is used and handled the shorter its lifespan will be. Very few
whole pots are found during archaeological excavations since they
usually broke during their owner’s lifetime and were discarded. Whole
vessels are found buried with their owners or high ranking individuals.
These vessels were probably rarely or never used and were often made as
grave offerings. Being buried also removed them from lanes of foot
traffic allowing them to remain whole.
I AM NOT
a Native American or Native Alaskan, nor do I claim to be. The
items represented on this website ARE NOT made by a Native American and
do not represent a specific people/culture. The items are
universal and were used worldwide by almost all ancient peoples.
Brian Floyd with questions or
comments about this website.
This site was last updated
January 16, 2014