The History of Native American Pottery

GRCA 16444

The History of Native American Pottery

The history of Native American pottery is extensive to say the least. Archeological evidence suggests that pottery in the Americas has been in use as far back as at least 7,500 years ago. Pottery was an extremely useful apparatus to the Native Americans, so much so that nearly every tribe that has been known to exist on the continent has used some form of pottery.

Although pottery pots, bowls, and vessels are extremely fragile, making it extremely rare to find a complete or nearly complete piece from so long ago, the broken pieces or shards that pottery produce from this era have proven to be abundant and nearly indestructible. Pottery is very well preserved and impervious to erosion. The clay is fired to such a degree that the silica in the clay converts to a new material known as ceramic (ceramic is a very hard material and is used today as knives and even as ball bearings) .

These pottery pieces allow archeologists and anthropologists to take a look into the past, to see how the Natives lived, how they traveled, traded, adapted, and survived. Nearly all of the Native American pottery specimens discovered were created for some utilitarian purpose such as food or water storage and often for cooking.

One unique characteristic of Mississippian Native American pottery is that freshwater mussels were use to temper their ceramic artifacts. Using this shell temper method produced pottery that was stronger and lighter than the clays original aptitude. Tempering raw clay also prevents pots from shrinking or cracking when fired. Tribes in different regions used different tempers to make their pots more durable, for example sandstone and grog (crushed potsherds) were used by the Ancestral Pueblo people of the Southwestern cultures.

Some other examples of Native American tempers are charcoal, wood ash, ground bone, plant fiber, and fresh water Sponge spicules. This is one example of Native American ingenuity because they were able to improve and enhance the art of pottery-making simply by trial and error.

Even after thousands of years the art of pottery making remains a core value of Native American heritage and culture.

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November 25, 2013