Pottery and People: A Dynamic Interaction

By Ferrara, Enzo | Plains Anthropologist, February 2004 | Go to article overview

Pottery and People: A Dynamic Interaction


Ferrara, Enzo, Plains Anthropologist


Pottery and People: A Dynamic Interaction. Edited by JAMES M. SKIBO and GARY M. FEINMAN. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City. 1999. xiii+240 pp., 92 figures, 41 tables. $ 55.00 (Cloth, ISBN 0-8748-0576-7), S 25.00 (Paper, ISBN 0-8748-0577-5).

Pottery is one of the most routinely treated material classes in the archaeological literature. It comes in endless varieties according to economic and social circumstances and can last almost forever providing important clues about the past human behavior. Ceramic evidence offers valuable opportunities to explore technological and social behavior. Most ceramic knowledge can be extracted through artistic and compositional characterization, but additional critical features can be integrated into research designs involving human relationships with artifacts.

This volume is a collection of papers developed largely from the 1996 "Pottery and People" conference held at Illinois State University. The contributors address the relationships between humans and ceramics and address topics such as the origins of pottery manufacture in the Southwest U.S. and Mesoamerica, production and standardization, vessel size and food consumption patterns, and the role pottery plays in communication. Archaeological methods and theory are examined in the context of prehistoric and contemporary data from various regional areas. The common rationale is to present the study of pottery as a fundamental contribution to anthropological issues.

James M. Skibo's introductory essay, Pottery and People, suggests pottery is a material link to everyday life, involving three primary use stages: manufacture and distribution, use, and discard. He notes however that much of the archaeological interest focuses on the most refined varieties, addressing specific social, economic, or communicative needs embedded with the material and cultural nature of the artifacts.

Most of the other contributions relate to Southwestern and Mesoamerican production, such as Exploring the Origins of Pottery on the Colorado Plateau, by James. M. Skibo and Eric Blinman, touching on different aspects of pottery making. James B. Stoltman's, The Chaco-Chuska Connection: In Defense of Anna Shepard, uses quantitative and qualitative analysis to support the hypothesis that gray ware ceramics in the Chuska region were imported (ca. A.D. 900-1140) from Chaco Canyon. Tecomates, Residential Mobility, and Early Formative Occupation in Coastal Lowland Mesoamerica, by Philip J. Arnold III, examines the use of Tecomate, a globular neck-less jar with a restricted orifice. The trove of new vessel forms and decorations reflects changing functional and social implication for the ceramic assemblages, coupled with the adoption of agriculture and a settled way of life.

Gary M. Feinman's contribution, Rethinking our Assumptions: Economic Specialization at the Household Scale in Ancient Ejutla, Oaxaca, Mexico, questions evolutionary models of largescale fabrication and views specialized craft production in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica as a peculiar case since it occurred mainly at the domestic level. Dean E. Arnold also deals with the organization, evolution, and identification of the household potters' craft. His piece, Advantages and Disadvantages of Vertical-Half Molding Technology: Implications for Production Organization, focuses on the remains of a specialized fabrication technique originated in Ticul, Yucatan, in the late 1940s.

The essays Ceramics and the Social Contexts of Food Consumption in the Northern Southwest, by Barbara J. Mills, and Socialization in American Southwest Pottery Decoration, by Patricia L. Crown, address social themes. Mills attempts to understand changes in food consumption patterns using ceramic features. Significant augmentation in the size of cooking vessels is associated with a change in cuisine, involving increased corn consumption along with increasing site size and degree of aggregation. …

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