Pottery sherds

Shell-tempered sherd and Hopewell-like sherd

Pottery Sherds

Broken fragments of pottery, or pot sherds, are found on many archaeological sites throughout all parts of Oklahoma. The first appearance of pottery making in Oklahoma is unknown but the pottery was probably being made for roughly the past 2000 years and is most plentiful on the late prehistoric sites.

Pot sherds are important to the archaeologist because they are usually present in large numbers and are sensitive to both time and areal differences. The pottery sherds display so many different characteristics such as the variations in color, thickness, hardness, tempering material, vessel form, decorative treatment, etc., that they are extremely useful to establish the general time period for the site where they were found. These various characteristics of the pottery change through time and space, and specific characteristics are to be associated with certain areas and certain time periods. Consequently, the pottery wares, such as Spiro Engraved or Stamper Cordmarked, like antique glass or china can be identified by specific combined characteristics much in the same way that you would differentiate between a Ford and a Chevrolet.

There are perhaps 100 to 120 identified pottery types known in the state: some are quite common while others are rare and may represent trade vessels from surrounding localities. The identification of sherds is easiest when dealing with rim sherds that have some kind of decoration present. Plain sherds require greater consideration of the paste, tempering material, vessel form, etc., and are more subject to identification errors.



Figure 45 illustrates examples of different types of surface decoration such as cordmarking, incising, brushing, etc. Different methods may be combined on single vessels, and other decorative techniques such as painting, excising, appliqué, etc., may be used. These examples are shown to illustrate specific techniques of pottery decoration.

Figure 45a is an example of dentate stamping placed within zoned areas outlined by trailing. The rim shows triangular stick punctates and raised bosses produced by pushing a stick from the inside of the vessel to form the boss. Figure 45b is a rim sherd decorated with trailing and with triangular punctates produced with a small stick impressed into the clay at an angle. Trailing is produced by dragging or trailing a blunt stick across the clay surface. Figure 45c has been decorated with a thong-wrapped or carved wooden paddle. Figure 45d is an example of punctate decorations arranged in rows. This was probably done with a small stick. Figure 45e is a bottle sherd that has been decorated by engraving. The design was cut into the vessel surface after the clay had been dried to provide a hard surface. Figure 45f represents an incised type of decoration. Incising was done when the clay remained soft so that the clay was pushed aside by the incising tool rather than being cut away as in the case of engraving. Figure 45g is an example of a brushed surface. The soft clay was brushed or wiped with a bundle of coarse grass stems or similar material. Figure 45h represents a cordmarked rim sherd. The surface has been marked by cords or strings which were wrapped around a wooden paddle which was used in shaping the vessel. Impressions of the cords can usually be seen through careful examination of the sherd impressions. Figure 45i is an example of Historic Choctaw ware which has been decorated with a toothed comb-like tool.


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