Organization of the Classification System: Introduction

In the various systems of pottery classification that have been so far proposed, the initial reference points into which a particular ceramic item is assigned are based on spatial units defined at various scales which have both geographic and cultural connotations. The most basic units include broadly defined Southwestern culture areas that were identified by distinct and long-lived suites of material cultural developments based on ceramics as well as other material culture. Ceramics defined for each of the broadly defined culture areas were then assigned to smaller units based of combinations of traits indicative of specific shared traditions and presumed historic connections. Archaeologists in different areas of the Southwest have used a variety of terminology to describe units defined at various spatial scales which include terms borrowed directly from biological classification systems as well as other geographic expressions or analogies and include terms such as root, stem, branches, focus, culture centers or areas, districts, series, regions, provinces, and traditions. For this web site, each ceramic type defined is placed into categories for three nested geographical units which from the broadest defined to the narrowest include culture area, branch, and tradition. While the version of the scheme employed here seems to be distinct, the combination of terminology and criteria used to define these units has been borrowed from other Southwestern ceramic classification systems.


The broadest spatial unit defined here is referred to as culture or culture area. Culture areas most commonly refer to very broadly defined groupings for which the associated sequence of occupation is associated with a very distinct combination of traits or material culture. The most basic division employed involves the distinction of archaeological manifestations indicative of groups that seem to have been directly related to modern Pueblo groups and those which were not. For most time-spans, almost all pottery produced within the current boundaries defined for New Mexico was produced by groups that appear to be in some way related to modern Pueblo groups. The rare incidences of ceramics associated with cultures that were unrelated to Pueblo groups mostly appear to be the result of late migrations by nomadic groups from areas outside the Southwest into broad landscapes that had been completely abandoned by Pueblo groups sometime before A.D. 1300. Examples of such late manifestations include both Numic or Uto-Aztecan groups arriving from the Great Basin and Athapaskan groups from sub-arctic areas of North America. In addition, some pottery recovered from sites in the very eastern portion of the Southwest appears to have been produced by groups associated with Plains rather than Pueblo cultural traditions. Other pottery produced by groups that are commonly assumed not to be directly related to modern Pueblos have been assigned to other culture areas including the Hohokam, Patayan, and Fremont are not included here because ceramic types associated with these cultural traditions do not appear to occur in New Mexico. While there is evidence that pottery making Ute groups occupied areas of New Mexico just north of the San Juan drainage (Wilson 2004; Schaafsma 1996), because of difficulties and controversies associated with the differentiation of this pottery from that produced by other groups such as the Navajo, descriptions of Ute or Numic pottery types are not yet included here. Areas occupied by groups that in some way appear to have been related to historic Pueblo people were somewhat arbitrarily divided here into three culture areas based on broad similarities between material traits and cultural patterns associated with groups who seem to have long-occupied different geographic provinces. The three included within a broadly defined Ancestral Pueblo group are the Greater Mogollon, Greater Upper Rio Grande Valley, and the Southern Colorado Plateau (Anasazi).


The next unit defined is referred to here as branch and is characterized by broad and rather distinct combinations of material culture identified within the different culture areas. Contemporaneous ceramics from areas assigned to different branches, while sharing broad suites of traits, can often be distinguished by differences in finishing techniques and type of pigment used in painted decorations. Ceramics from different areas within a particular branch are further divided here into ceramic traditions which are described here as the smallest area for which pottery associated with different sequences can be consistently grouped. Ceramics assigned to different regional traditions defined for a specific area often exhibit similar characteristics but are differentiated by temper and paste resources and sometimes stylistic differences. Traditions represent the basic unit through which and ceramic ware groups and types are defined.


Within the classification system employed here, pottery assigned to different traditions is further assigned to a specific ware and type category. Wares refer to basic technological and functional based groupings common in pottery produced across much of the Southwest. Wares as defined here represent a range of distinct technological practices in the production of pottery at particular and location that resulted in very long periods of production and use of distinct forms. Examples of utilitarian ware groups include gray and brown wares that were never painted and commonly, although not always, served as cooking jars. Examples of decorated wares that were usually painted and are represented by a wide range of forms including bowls and other serving vessels include white, red, glaze, and polychrome wares. Ceramic types are listed for each ware defined within a particular tradition.


Ceramic types refer to the most basic classification group defined for a particular ceramic item. Ceramics, placed into different wares assigned to specific traditions, are than assigned to types based on surface including surface texture or painted styles indicative of pottery know to have been produced within particular geographic and during a specific time span. The sequence of types known to follow each other defined for a ware within a particular tradition has sometimes been referred to as a series (Colton 1954). The recognition of a particular type based on surface attributes is dependent on the determination of the area origin or associated tradition of particular ceramic item based on paste and temper characteristic. Types are given geographic names derived from the general area where examples of that type were first identified and defined and then to the associated ware group reflecting the overall form and surface finish (Colton 1954). Thus, ceramic types are assigned to a compound name that included both the geographic designation for that type as well as the associated name. Examples of such naming conventions include Chupadero Black-on-white, Mesa Verde Corrugated, Reserve Plain Smudged, Aqua Fria Glaze-on-red, and Powhoge Polychrome.