Making Pottery & Understanding Ceramics

The process by which our ancestors made pottery is wonderful and extraordinary. To take minerals from the ground and create objects which have lasted a millenia is a testament to their ingenuity.

We started our understanding of pottery by heading over to NSU’s Art Department to watch pottery expert Matt DeFord and get out hands dirty.

We created pots by two methods that day–slab and wheel-thrown. Slab pottery is the use of a large wedge of clay that is shaped in place into a vessel of some sort. Wheel-thrown is the classic view of pottery creation–a wedge of clay in the middle of a rotating disc that is pulled into fantastic shapes and designs (or in the case of my piece…not so much). We also learned about Maria Martinez, a potter of San Ildsafanso, who uses a coil design to make pinch-pots

In our next pottery experience, we explored the methods by which clays are selected, processed, refined, and prepared for vessel creation. Dr. Gregory supplied us with some local Natchitoches clay and we processed the large, hard pieces with some hammer stones and anvils we had in the lab. The fine clay dust was consolidated into a large bucket. We sifted everything to remove large ferrous inclusions and other irregularities. Next, Dr. Hailey added water to the clay mixture and let it soak for a few days. We later hung the huge wedge of clay from a cedar tree outside of Kyser Hall to dry for the afternoon before working it.

Once our clay was sufficiently dry, we went to Dr. Gregory’s lab to look at some examples of decoration in pottery. Our goals in this lab was to replicate the designs that those of in the past here in the present. By using some of Dr. Gregory’s clay and mixing it with the clay that we had created earlier, we made an agate of the two with the coloring and characteristics of each mixed together. I created two pots–a large seed-like pot and a small bell-shaped pot. In my larger pot I used a process called punch-drag to try and replicate the Natchitoches  design.

The next lab in which we explored pottery was back down in the lab. Dr. Hailey brought some unrefined clay to the lab and we processed a little of it. I took the ferrous inclusions and grounded them into ocher for color, but never used it.We went up to Dr. Gregory’s lab and explored PPOs or Poverty Point Objects–small, fist-sized loess objects found at the Poverty Point site in relation and association with cooking. We attempted to replicate the different PPOs (there are 6 different “classes” of them) and I think I figured out how the melon-type was created. By making a preform oval ball and incising it with a small cane reed the groves of the melon were created. Next, a small twist gave it the look of the artifact I was attempting to replicate. I also attempted to replicate the bar-melon design, which looks like a series of connected rings around a cylinder. By rolling the cylinder between my fingers or using a cane reed an elongated cylinder is created with groves in between. To give it the look of the artifact I smashed each of the ends together and compressed it. I think this may be close to the original technique because there are characteristic smudges made in the clay from this type of compression that are present on both the artifact and my replication.

The subsequent lab saw Dr. Hailey hanging the huge wedge of clay from a cedar tree outside of Kyser Hall to dry it before working it. The clay is a dark grey which is a stark difference from the light yellow color of Dr. Gregory’s clay. I created a tall pinch pot and created a slip from clay and ocher for color. Slip is clay in an aqueous suspension that is used to coat and color pottery. It can be applied in a number of ways but I brushed it on with hand-made cane brushes. We created Cuneiform tablets and Venus figurines on our clay as well.

Overall I feel that through the use of experimental archaeology I have a far better understanding of the entire pottery and ceramic process. By understanding how something is created we can begin to recognize the patterns  of those who created them within them. The purpose of archaeology isnt about the material remains of the past, but rather the people. Archaeologists only utilize the connections that exist today–the material remains–to arrive at better understandings of past peoples.


Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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