Native American Ceramics of Eastern Colorado

Article excerpt

Native American Ceramics of Eastern Colorado. By PRISCILLA B. ELLWOOD. Natural History Inventory of Colorado No. 21, University of Colorado Museum, Boulder Colorado. 2002. xii + 115 pp., 133 figures, 3 tables, 3 appendices, references. $15.00 (Paper, ISSN 0890-6882).

Ceramic analysts, particularly those working with assemblages of nondescript thumbnail-sized sherds from the High Plains, often fantasize about working with whole vessels. Priscilla Ellwood has been "living the dream" since 1987, and the years of hard work she has applied to the task is clearly evident in Native American Ceramics of Eastern Colorado.

The volume is replete with descriptive data, drawings, distribution maps and photographs for a sample of 36 whole and partial vessels from the High Plains section of Eastern Colorado. The sample includes eight Early Ceramic vessels (Plains Woodland Tradition), two Transitional Early / Middle Ceramic vessels (Plains Woodland-Upper Republican), ten Middle Ceramic vessels (three Upper Republican, three Panhandle

Aspect-Apishapa Focus, and four Upper Purgatoire Complex), and sixteen Late Ceramic vessels (one Dismal River, two Athapaskan-- Apache, one Intermountain-Shoshone, six Uncomphagre-Ute, four Anasazi-Pueblo, one Historic Navajo, and one Historic Sioux). For providing readily accessible information about these rare finds, this volume serves as a welcome and valuable addition to the literature on High Plains ceramics.

The descriptive data coding format developed by Ellwood in this analysis is an effective tool for the systematic documentation and comparison of attribute-level variability in whole and partial vessels. A slightly modified format for coding sherds was presented in her 1987 study of the Bayou Gulch (5DA265) ceramics. Together, both coding formats represent a systematic data collection method for dealing with the range of variability evident in High Plains ceramics, and deserve consideration by other researchers interested in producing comparable data sets.

Likewise, Ellwood's inclusion of petrographic data on sherds from eight vessels in her sample provides renewed impetus for ceramic sourcing studies in the High Plains. It will be particularly interesting to see if anything develops from Ellwood's observation that Fountain Formation clays from the Front Range may have been used as clay sources to produce Dismal River micaceous wares. I am also intrigued by the potential distribution of Front Range granite-tempered Early Ceramic pottery on the High Plains. For instance, will it be possible to use petrography to differentiate between granite-tempered ceramics produced locally using Front Range tempering agents derived from Quaternary gravel sources versus the Front Range bedrock sources reported by Ellwood and her colleague Douglas Parker?

Ellwood's apparent interest in High Plains ceramic variability is in itself commendable and she certainly goes to great lengths to provide the type of data necessary for exploring it. However, the primary purpose of Native American Ceramics of Eastern Colorado is inexplicably antithetical to the study of ceramic variability. Her stated goal is to provide models "with which to compare and identify sherds, partial vessels, and complete vessels from archaeological sites" because she believes that the variation " demonstrated in the attributes of sherds recovered from surveys and excavations can also be found in whole and partial vessels" (page 2). With strict adherence to this assumption, Ellwood wrote her ceramic type descriptions as if the full range of ceramic variability present in the archaeological record of Eastern Colorado were actually represented by her sample. In fact, a cursory review of the literature indicates that rim sherds present in assemblages from High Plains Upper Republican sites in Eastern Colorado exhibit far greater decorative variability than Ellwood describes in either her sample of three Upper Republican vessels or in her more general discussion of Upper Republican pottery in Eastern Colorado. …