Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Prehistoric pottery refers to fired clay objects, most notably vessels, made by the native peoples in Florida. These pottery traditions began in the St. Johns River valley around 4,500 years ago and continued through European contact even to Seminole potters today.

Cordmarked pot from ca. AD 900-1250 Jacksonville, UNF Archaeology Lab, photo by Kevin Gidusko.
How to spot this pottery when monitoring
Prehistoric pottery is coarse earthenware and can range from greys to tans and even reds and oranges. It is generally unglazed, though it can be polished to a nice shiny surface. The vast majority of the pottery found in northeast Florida will also not have any paint or coloring added to the surface. The pottery was all pit-fired at lower temperatures than European wares and the ceramics we use today. This means it will be more porous and soft.
Prehistoric pottery can be found at various prehistoric sites including shell middens, mounds and even in simple artifact scatters. Later types are also found at historic sites like missions and Spanish households.

What does Pottery tell us about the past?
Archaeologists can learn a lot from pottery. We can gain insights into cooking and cuisine when thinking about the shape, size and uses of the pottery. We can learn about art and prehistoric worldviews when examining the designs on pottery. We can trace trade routes and social interactions when studying when and where pottery is found. We can understand prehistoric technology and manufacturing when delving deeper into the construction of the pottery.

How do archaeologists learn all of that stuff?
Archaeologists use a wide array of techniques and technology to uncover this information. At the most basic level, we try to establish typologies (categories of pottery) and seriations (putting these categories along a timeline) to help us understand how pottery changes over time and space. Archaeologists use the tempering agents in the paste and the surface treatments to sort and classify individuals sherds (pieces of pottery). A temper is anything added to the clay to help with the firing process and can give the final pot specific characteristics. We'll then try to reconstruct whole vessels.

View from basic pottery analysis.
For more information on prehistoric pottery, check out these blog posts: Ceramics 101: Unglazed Coarse Earthenware (Part 1: Prehistoric), Woodland Pottery: Swift Creek, or Lab Time: Prehistoric Pottery. You can also check out a guide for prehistoric pottery on the Gulf Coast here.

To learn more about or join the HMS Florida site monitoring program, visit www.fpan.us/hmsflorida.

Words and images by Emily Jane Murray, FPAN Staff, unless otherwise noted.

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