Ancestral Pueblo: Greater MogollonJornada MogollonSouthern Jornada (El Paso)El Paso Brown - Polychrome WareEl Paso Bichrome - Polychrome

Type Name: El Paso Bichrome - Polychrome

Period: 1050 A.D. - 1450 A.D.
Culture: Ancestral Pueblo: Greater Mogollon
Branch: Jornada Mogollon
Tradition: Southern Jornada (El Paso)
Ware: El Paso Brown - Polychrome Ware

First posted by C. Dean Wilson 2012

El Paso Polychrome was defined and described by (Stallings 1931). Pottery assigned to either El Paso Bichrome or Polychrome indicate distinct decorated pottery forms known to have long-been produced in the El Paso region. Designs are often described as being crude, and may include alternating lines in black and red. Since decoration on jars is often limited to the rim or neck areas, unpainted body sherds from El Paso Polychrome may sometimes by assigned to El Paso Brown.

Various examples of pottery assigned to the El Paso decorated types reflect a long sequence of change beginning with undecorated El Paso Brown followed by the production of El Paso Bichrome and then El Paso Polychrome forms produced during later periods (Miller and Kenmotsu 2004; Whalen 1981). Despite the presence of painted decorations on El Paso Polychrome vessels, surfaces tend to be crudely smoothed or scraped. Surfaces are usually poorly polished and streaky but are sometimes well polished. Temper consists of white to clear feldspar with some sub-rounded quartz grains and small dark igneous fragments. Paste is variable, ranging from black, sandwiched by reddish or brownish surfaces. Mineral pigments used to decorate El Paso Polychrome vary in color from a bright orange to red to very dark gray to black.

The earliest form of painted pottery produced in this region is referred here to as El Paso Bichrome which reflects forms associated with the beginning of the production of painted brown wares in the El Paso Region at about A.D. 1000 (Miller 1995; Whalen 1981). Pottery assigned to this variant exhibits characteristics indicative of the transition between El Paso Brown and El Paso Polychrome as usually defined. This type is resembles late forms of El Paso Brown, but exhibits red or black painted designs. Designs may be executed in red or black pigment and consist of single or double diagonal lines appended from the rim band. These lines sometimes form triangular and chevron shapes. Vessel forms are predominately represented by seed jars and bowls.

Designs on early and transitional forms of El Paso Polychrome consist of simple combinations of both black and red parallel lines. Primary design layouts are composed of diagonal red and black bands appended from the rim, or a rim band consisting of combinations of chevron and triangles. The transitional variant displays the first examples of step and fret designs that became common in later variants of this type (Miller 1995).

By A.D. 1250, El Paso Brown, El Paso Polychrome, and early and transitional variants of El Paso Polychrome had been largely replaced by "Classic" El Paso Polychrome which is a relatively unique in Southwest pottery form in that it served multiple functions as both a utilitarian and decorated ware. Vessels are commonly represented by very large and thin jars, some of which measure a meter in height (Miller 1995). There is some evidence that late El Paso Polychrome jars may have been used for cooking as indicated by sooted deposits on the exterior surfaces (Miller 1995; Wiseman 2002). The very large size and incredibly thin walls of late El Paso Polychromes jars indicates a very specialized technology. Other late vessel forms include bowls which also tend to be larger than earlier examples, ollas, terraced bowls, and jars with stirrup handles. Variations between early and late variants of El Paso Polychrome are most easily distinguished through the comparisons of profiles or rim sherds. Rim sherd profiles are commonly described using the "Rim Sherd Index" which is based on two thickness measurements taken from 2 and 15 mm below the rim and works best for jar rims (Seaman and Mills 1988; Whalen 1993). While decorations associated with El Paso Polychrome are often assumed to be relatively simple and crude as compared to decorated pottery associated with other Southwestern ceramic traditions, the complexity of design elements on late or Classic El Paso Polychrome may be underestimated partly as a result of so few whole vessels having been recovered and studied (Miller 1995). While as is the case for earlier examples, design layouts are created from a limited set of elements consisting of alternating red and black or interlocking bands and stepped frets, these elements are ultimately integrated into an extremely complex series of band layouts between the rim and lower framing lines (Miller 1995).

Miller, Myles R.
1995 Ceramics of the Jornada Mogollon and Trans-Pecos Regions of West Texas. Bulletin of Texas Archaeological Society, Vol 666, pp 210-235, Austin.

Miller, Myles R., and Nancy A. Kenmotsu
2004 Prehistory of the Jornada Mogollon and Eastern Trans Pecos Regions of West Texas. In The Prehistory of Texas, edited by T. Perttula, pp. 205-265. Texas A & M University Press, College Station.

Seaman, Timothy J., and Barbara J. Mills
1988 El Paso Brownware Rim Analysis. In The Border Star 85 Survey: Toward an Archaeology of Landscapes, edited by T. Seaman, W. Doleman, and R. Chapman, pp. 169 183. Office of Contract Archeology Report No. 185 227, Albuquerque.

Stallings, W.S., Jr.
1931 El Paso Polychrome. Laboratory of Anthropology, Technical Series, Bulletin 3, Santa Fe.

Whalen, Michael E.

1981 The Origin and Evolution of Ceramics in Western Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Archaeological Society 52:215-229.

1993 El Paso Brown Rims as Chronological Markers? New Data on an Old Question. The Kiva 58:475 486.

Wiseman, Regge N.
2002 The Fox Place: A Late Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Pithouse Village neare Roswell, New Mexico. Office of Archaeological Studies Archaeology Notes 234, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe.

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El Paso Polychrome jar sherds

El Paso Bichrome seed jar

El Paso Polychrome stepped bowl (exterior surface)

El Paso Polchrome stepped jar (interior surface)

El Paso Polychrome jar

El Pas Polychrome jar

El Paso Polychrome jar sherds

El Paso Polychrome bowl sherd

El Paso Polychrome sherds