Pottery: Information        


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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.











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Copyright ©2014 Brian Floyd

This site was last updated January 16, 2014