La Venta, Tabasco: a Study of Olmec Ceramics and Art

By Philip Drucker | Go to book overview
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These notes are based on a sample of 40 sherds including a number of well-preserved polychromes in cream, buff, and orange finish, and some less well-preserved fragments, both oxidized and reduced. All sherds were examined with the binocular miscroscope and 14 were thin-sectioned. Thermal tests were made of a number, and three samples of black paint were tested microchemically for iron and manganese.

Classification. --The sherds were first classified with respect to color, which was considered in relation to firing method, paste composition, and finish. With respect to firing, the sherds can be divided into two groups: the oxidized, which include a range from cream to orange and brown; and the unoxidized or reduced, the grays. This division is based on surface color. Many of the sherds classed as oxidized have gray cores showing that the process of oxidization was incomplete.

The oxidized pastes can also be divided into two classes defined by color of the clay, buff-firing and red-firing. This terminology is borrowed from modern ceramics. The clay classed as red-firing is usually referred to as orange in descriptions of Fine Paste ware. Each class has a color range that may be caused by minor differences in composition, variable firing or a combination of the two, but the distinction between the two classes is due to paste composition and not firing because the color difference persists when the sherds are retired under standard conditions. These clays did not necessarily come from different localities. They could, in fact, have come from different strata in the same bed, but it is plain that the potters were familiar with the firing behavior of the two varieties of clay because they adapted their finishing techniques to them. The sample is rather small for comparison of the properties of the red and buff pastes, but it appears that the reds were less often fully oxidized, and also they appear more dense than the buffs.

Classed by surface finish, the sherds again fall into two major groups, those with a slip of contrasting color and those which are


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La Venta, Tabasco: a Study of Olmec Ceramics and Art


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