The Origins of Pottery on the Colorado Plateau

In the days of Gordon Childe (1951), the emergence of pottery seemed sudden and easily understood. Sedentary agriculturalists made pottery, and it signaled the beginning of the Neolithic revolution worldwide. Although this is still generally true, more recent research and better dating techniques have made this once simple equation between pottery and sedentary agriculturalists much more complicated (Pavlů 1997; Rice 1999). We now know that mobile hunter-gatherers made pottery (e.g., Aikens 1995; Bollong et al. 1993; Reid 1984; Sassaman 1993; Tuohy and Dansie 1990), and some cultivators, like those of the Lapita Culture (Green 1979), actually abandoned pottery technology. In areas such as the American Southeast, pottery manufacture preceded agriculture for up to 2,000 years, and in the American Southwest or the Near East agriculture was present long before the first pottery.

In this chapter, we first examine the origin of pottery generally, and then look more closely at one particular case – the emergence of pottery on the Colorado Plateau of the Southwestern USA. The analytical focus of this study is a sample of whole and partially reconstructed vessels from sites dating between AD 200 and AD 600. Using a performance- based analysis, the functions of the early vessels are inferred through an analysis of morphological characteristics and use-alteration traces. The collections of whole brown ware vessels from three sites in northeastern Arizona are dominated by globular neckless jars. From a performance perspective, it is argued that these vessels would have performed very well as storing, cooking, or processing vessels. Preliminary use-alteration analysis suggests that some of the vessels were not used over a fire, whereas others were used in two types of cooking. Moreover, many of the vessels were used for alcohol fermentation that caused extreme interior surface attrition.


Colorado Plateau Ceramic Vessel Indirect Heating Alluvial Clay Pottery Vessel 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

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