In a previous blog we talked about type collections and how valuable they are to the scientific community. Today we want to share a type collection of ancestral Arikara and Mandan ceramics that was created during the 1990’s by Great Plains archaeology ceramic expert, Craig Johnson. The Arikara (Sanish) and Mandan are two of the Three Affiliated Tribes (along with the Hidatsa) with land holdings today centered on the Fort Berthold Reservation in New Town, North Dakota. While Mr. Johnson was here studying various River Basin Survey sites related to the Mandan and Arikara, Dr. Rogers asked him to create a type collection of Arikara and Mandan ceramics, pulling samples from a variety of sites, including Dodd (39ST30), Deadman's Creek (39CO18), Black Partizan (39LM218), Cheyenne River (39ST1), Sully (39SL4), Meander (39LM201), Phillips Ranch (39ST14), Oldham (39CH7), Leavenworth (39CO9), Pease Creek (39CH5), Hitchell (39CH45), Fort Abraham Lincoln: On-A-Slant Village (32MO26), Steamboat Creek (39PO1), Anton Rygh (39CA4), Broken Horn Bull (No specific site number, collected pre-RBS), Nordvold (No specific site number, collected pre-RBS), McKensey Village Site (39AR201), Red Horse-Hawk (39CO34), and Pretty Head (39LM232).
Mr. Johnson was working toward the publication of his book, A Chronology of Middle Missouri Plains Village Sites, which was published as a part of the series: Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology (Number 47). The volume goes into great detail about ceramic classification in Middle Missouri sites, and includes photos of different rim types, as well as discussion and interpretation of the distribution of the types across sites and time-periods, using a variety of dating techniques. Besides conventional and AMS radiocarbon data derived from short lived organic materials and charred pot residues, the volume also explores data from site stratigraphy, Euro-American trade goods, historic documentation, oral traditions, historical linguistics, and craniometric distance to assist with the interpretation of the sites. All of this information is used to reconstruct a settlement history for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara in the Middle Missouri area of the Great Plains.
When I started working here, Dr. Rogers asked me to document the type collection before each piece of pottery was reintegrated with its original site in storage, by carefully labeling each pottery sherd as a type sherd, and updating the documentation for each catalog number in our collections database, KeEMu. I also photographed all of the type sherds, using the lightbox in the Department of Anthropology’s photography studio at the Museum Support Center (MSC). Each photo is labeled with the type name, time period, and catalog number for easy identification in our database.
In the collection, Mr. Johnson identified 63 individual types, some of which he selected more than one example. These types are often named after the kind of decoration that is featured on the sherd, for example “Horizontal Cord Impressed” or “Incised Triangle” (A listing of the most common types can be found in Appendix B of A Chronology of Middle Missouri Plains Sites). Type names sometimes incorporate place names, such as a nearby town (“Fort Yates”), stream (“Campbell Creek”), or site (“Talking Crow”). Still other type names have no place references, such as “Anderson” or “Foreman”. Every so often an oddball piece is sure to be found that doesn’t conform to a known type; that’s human ingenuity for you! People did not necessarily make pottery according to types, but innovated. Archaeologists are responsible for developing these type names and groupings. However these kinds of type classifications are useful for broad cultural comparisons. In A Chronology of Middle Missouri Plains Village Sites, Mr. Johnson attempts to strike the right balance between a "classic 'lumper' as compared to a more fine-grained 'splitter' approach to ceramic classification" (Johnson 2007:45).
Left: Foreman Incised Triangle type, Initial Middle Missouri (IMM). Right: Le Beau Cord Impressed type, Post-Contact Coalescent (PCC). Catalog Nos. A405194 and A517524, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
While gathering the sherds suitable for type specimens together from various existing River Basin Survey site collections at the museum, Mr. Johnson also identified the time period that the sherds belonged to where possible. The Rygh Rainbow Corded (Le Beau Ware) type sherd shown below for example, is found associated with Extended Coalescent (EC) through Post Contact Coalescent (PCC) sites, or ca. 1400/1450-1650 (EC) through ca. 1650-1886 (PCC). The dates for each period vary slightly according to the site being discussed (Johnson 2007:15, 163).
For teaching purposes, we have made the entire picture set available on Flickr so you can practise identifying the various types of Arikara and Mandan ceramics, or just enjoy looking at the patterns! Click on the link below.
If you want to know more about the specific sherd, you can also examine its catalog record at The Collections Search Center, which covers all of the Smithsonian museums' collections that have digital records. It is a great resource for research and plain fun browsing. All you have to do is search for the sherd's catalog number which is listed in each picture. You can also search a variety of other keywords, such as the River Basin Survey site number (i.e. 39LM232), to see more objects from that site. Remember that not all items may be available online depending on the cataloging status of the item in question.
For more serious scholars, we have also included a spreadsheet that lists each sherd used in this type collection, its catalog number, RBS site number and name, time period, and field number (where available). Click the link below to download the table.
We hope that by making this type collection known to the public, it will aid in future research and scholarship.
-Meghan Mulkerin, Collections Specialist Contractor with contributions from Craig M. Johnson
Johnson, Craig M.
1980 Ceramic Classification in the Middle Missouri Subarea of the Plains. Technical Report No. 80-01. Division of Archaeological Research, Department of Anthropology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Download here: Johnson_MiddleMissouriCeramics_1980.