In the not-so-distant past, I organized a meeting of the minds to discuss problems and interesting phenomena associated with precontact southern Arizona pottery (“precontact” meaning “before the arrival of Europeans”). As I prepared for “Edge of Salado,” Archaeology Southwest’s upcoming investigations into why some people engaged with the Salado phenomenon and others didn’t, I wanted to ensure that our ceramic data would be compatible with those of other researchers who are working or have worked in the region.
As a result, Patrick Lyons (Director) and Mike Jacobs (Curator of Archaeological Collections) at the Arizona State Museum (ASM) graciously hosted a three-hour workshop in ASM’s Agnese and Emil Haury Southwest Native Nations Pottery Vault. Participants traded information and ideas about a vast variety of Southwestern wares and types. Of particular interest and focus to the convocation were Roosevelt Red Ware (illustrated at right), Tanque Verde Red-on-Brown (illustrated below), Sells Red, El Paso Polychrome, Babocomari Polychrome, and Casa Grande Red-on-buff, as well as a variety of corrugated types. Participants included Deborah Huntley, Bill Doelle, Jeff Clark, Barbara Mills, Matt Peeples, Patrick Lyons, Mike Jacobs, Henry Wallace, Jim Heidke, Mary Ownby, and me. I tasked each with focusing on a particular area of interest and expounding upon that.
Although I can’t speak for the other participants, the sheer level of sherd-nerdery present in that room ensured that I, for one, had a glorious—though mentally exhausting—time. In spite of my little pun in the title of this post, no one was allowed into the Vault with a fedora or a whip, although bottles of water and notepads or laptops were okay. (Computers and notepads are the true bullwhips of the real archaeologist, anyway.) Within the confines of the vault, we were able to geek out over a material technology that fundamentally transforms the four elements (earth, fire, water, and air) into objects that are much more than technological “things.” In fact, so many societal and cultural elements are embedded into these pots, that even after they’ve been broken and scattered, archaeologists studying ceramic sherds are able to use these seemingly insignificant pieces of trash to continuously come to new understandings of the complexity and beauty of the past.
Among the attendees I’ve spoken with since, each has stated that they came away with a new understanding of a least one type of ceramic. I for one increased my understanding of the multifaceted mechanisms of production and exchange that connected the Greater Southwest, within what amounts to a fluctuating web of portable ideas. It was an enlightening afternoon. So, thanks again to ASM, to Archaeology Southwest for helping me put together this amazing experience, and to all of the participants. Maybe we’ll do it again in a few years.