Continuing our series of Larson site artifacts, we now discuss the ceramic artifacts in the collection.
By Kendra Young
Since our last post, Kelly and Kendra completed the last steps of the inventory and rehousing processes for the Larson collection. This involved matching previously analyzed ceramic sherds marked only by analysis numbers with their original field catalog number. Now that these ceramics have been rehoused with their original provenience, the next step is to assign Smithsonian catalog numbers to each artifact and place new labels with them in the storage units.
The ceramic artifacts of the Larson collection were cataloged in three categories: rim sherds, body sherds, and decorated sherds. Rim and body sherds can easily tell us which part of the vessel they came from, but the decorated sherds are more complicated. Within the decorated sherds in the collection there are some rim, handle, and body sherds present. Most likely, the decorated sherds became a separate category to aid future vessel reconstructions because the decorations can be fit together like a puzzle.
An example of decorated sherds found in the collection. Photo by Kendra Young.
The rim sherds show a variety of patterns and decorative markings including impressions, punctations, and incisions made by tools and cords. Because most vessels are decorated on the rim, studies analyzing ceramic ware types and reconstructions tend to start with the rim sherds. In fact, previous studies on the Larson ceramics have done just that! Throughout our inventory we came across several beautiful reconstructed vessels and reconstructed rim sections.
Reconstructed rim section of a small vessel. Photo by Kendra Young.
A large partially reconstructed vessel containing decorated, body, rim, and handle sherds. Photo by Kendra Young.
In addition to the sherds that can be identified for reconstruction, we have inventoried and rehoused a lot of undecorated body sherds. Roughly 13% of the catalog numbers in the Larson collection are body sherds, yet individually, the sherds total over 60% of the entire amount of Larson artifacts! This is because they were collected in lots averaging around 255 sherds. Pictured below is just one of the lots, our largest, which includes 1880 sherds.
All hands on deck for this heavy drawer! Photo by Kendra Young.
Just because the body sherds show no decorations, it does not mean they are less important than the sherds that do. For example, these sherds can give us information about the clay and the firing processes used and they can be compared to pottery of other sites to show distribution and culture contact. Also, the abundance of undecorated body sherds compared to other artifacts in the collection is fascinating. It may be the predominance of body sherds is related to the season the village was attacked, coming from vessels that stored their crops during the winter, or it may be because they were preparing or storing crops from a recent harvest. Whatever the purpose of the vessels, there are many more attributes pottery sherds have for archaeological research. We have even discussed the importance of pottery sherds on our blog last year.
As we have also mentioned before on the blog, the Arikara and Mandan Ceramic types were identified in the 1990s by Dr. Craig Johnson. Of the ceramic artifacts in the Larson collection, many of these types are present. We were able to briefly identify several similarities and differences to the types through our online Flickr Photo Set. Listed below are a few examples of what we found:
This sherd has horizontal and diagonal cord impressions with vertical tool punctations. Photo by Kendra Young.
More cord impressions on these sherds. Sherd on the top looks similar to Le Beau Cord Impressed Style (Post Contact Coalescent). Photo by Kendra Young.
Same design in cord impressed, half circle motifs on the above sherds, similar to the Le Beau Cord-Wrapped Rod type and the Rygh Rainbow Corded -Le Beau Ware (Extended Coalescent-Post Contact Coalescent). Photos by Kendra Young.
This sherd has incisions in an alternating diagonal pattern. Photo by Kendra Young.
These two sherds above show a variety in tool punctations. Photos by Kendra Young.
This rim was made by pinching the clay with fingers, like a pie crust! Photo by Kendra Young.
As we have over 70,000 artifacts in this collection (more than 40,000 being just body sherds!), identifying all the ceramic designs and types present will be quite the undertaking. For now we hope to continue sampling some of the artifacts and introducing the collection to you, our reader.
If you are interested in reading more about Middle Missouri ceramics, see these sources:
Johnson, Craig M.
2007 A Chronology of Middle Missouri Plains Village Sites. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 47. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, Washington D.C.
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.
In other news, we would like to extend our congratulations to Kelly, who has taken a new position next door at the National Museum of American History in the National Numismatic Collection! Her hard work and dedication to detail has helped make the cataloging process of the Larson site collection and all other efforts here at the Lab be a success. We wish you the best of luck, Kelly!
Stay tuned for more from the Larson site collection: next we will explore the stone artifacts.