Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let's get decorating!

Today I figured it was time to take a break from reviewing Aboriginal ceramic types we have found at Port Tobacco and instead look at the methods people used to decorate these wares. Common decoration types include cord impressions, cord-wrapped stick impressions, incising, punctations, net or fabric impressions, and added nodules.

Cord-marked designs are created just as the name implies. A piece of cord made from woven plant fibers is taken and applied to the soft clay, leaving behind an impression, as seen on this piece of Potomac Creek to the left. This particular sherd came from Stratum 1 of Unit 60. These designs are often horizontal along the rim of a vessel though more elaborate geometric designs were also used, as seen in this sherd of Potomac Creek. Cord-markings can be described as being an "S-twist" or a "Z-twist," depending on which direction the woven fibers are facing. These pieces of Potomac Creek both have a Z-twist.

One of the variations seen in cord-marked designs is called a cord-wrapped stick impression. These decorations were made by wrapping woven cord around a paddle, similar to the one in the image to the right. Paddles could be made from any hard material such as wood or bone. During the manufacture of a vessel a cord-wrapped paddle was pressed against the wet clay, as seen in the image to the left.

Incising and punctation could be created using a thin pointed tool often made from bone, shell, or stone, though fingers and finger-nails produce similar results. Incised designs were often geometric or linear. Punctated wares have impressed dots, often along the rim of the vessel. This sherd of Rappahannock from Stratum 2 of Unit 54 may have small punctations along its top (it is difficult to discern whether these are small punctations or a variation of cord-markings, please click on the image for a better look). So far this has been the only sherd catalogued from this year's field session with this type of decoration. Net and fabric-impressions were created by pressing woven fabrics, rather than a single cord, against the wet clay.

Nodules or handles were created by adding additional pieces of clay to the main body of the vessel. I have yet to come across any examples of this decoration in the Aboriginal pottery found at Port Tobacco.

Hopefully that was not an overwhelming primer on Aboriginal pottery decorations. Please do check out the links and enlarge the images--I know there are quite a few of them today, but looking at examples of these decoration styles really is the best way to understand what the terms are referring to. Of course, there are many variations to the types I discussed here, but hopefully I have been successful in laying down the basic styles.


Image Resources:

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

The University of Texas

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