Historic Background

The approaches and terminology still commonly used to define and describe Southwestern ceramic types are closely tied to the early history of archaeological investigations in this region. Systematic archaeological investigations that began during the late nineteenth century and became increasingly common during the early part of the twentieth century resulted in the accumulation of massive amounts of pottery. Early discussions of this pottery tended to be very short and descriptive and were often limited to observations based on whole interesting vessels worthy of museum display. As archaeologists became increasingly concerned with understanding the nature of the history and connections reflected by sites investigated across the Southwest, it became evident that a consistent system for the identification, description, and organization of pottery data was needed. Pottery was initially described using a series of descriptive labels employed to distinguish and describe pottery groups with apparent spatial and temporal significance using terms such Biscuit Wares, Pre-Pueblo Wares, Blue gray type, Black-on red, and Crackled Black-on-white (Peckham 1990). These types of observations and characterizations formed the basis for the earliest chronological studies in the Southwest and provided the basis for later dating schemes (Kroeber 1916; Kidder 1915; Nelson 1914). In addition, observations relating to variation noted in pottery from sites spread across the Southwest provided the basis for the definition of archaeological provinces thought to represent distinct Southwestern culture areas (Hewett 1908; Kidder 1924).

By the 1920s and 1930s archaeologists working in areas across the Southwest began to devise systematic classification systems that could be used to organize information relating to temporal and spatial variation of pottery from sites across large areas of the Southwest. These schemes reflect strategies adopted that had already been employed biology where the probable evolutionary relationships of different organism were evaluated by grouping morphological data at varying scales of resolution. Such typological schemes began with the grouping of all known biological organisms into taxa based on very broadly defined characteristics which were than subdivided into a series of smaller, more precisely defined, and closely related groups that ultimately led to a particular species which could be identified by both by unique combinations of traits and by boundaries with other organisms.

The organization of ceramic data recovered from Southwestern sites was greatly aided by the work of astronomer A. E. Douglas, whose observations about the long-term effect of sun spots on climate lead him to develop the discipline of dendrochronology, a method of dating wood by analyzing the growth ring patterns resulting from variations in regional patterns of precipitation. He was able to eventually produce a continuous record of tree-ring data that went back to A. D. 700 (Douglas 1929), and since then tree-ring dating has been extended back several more centuries. The description of associated ceramic types, from contexts assigned to calendar dates based on tree-ring sample, became an integral part of most subsequent archaeological investigations. The data accumulated during such studies resulted in the documentation of sequences of dated pottery types across much of the Southwest.

Spurred by this rapid accumulation of tree-ring dated samples, early ceramic typologies defined and grouped Southwestern pottery and to some degree other material culture, through their classification into a series of nested groupings that were separated and linked based on their inferred relationships between variably related groups across space and through time. While the overall terminology utilized by archaeologists working in different areas of the Southwest varied, the basic strategy for naming and describing these ceramics was similar enough that it was possible to compare and organize descriptions of pottery from areas across the Southwest (Colton and Hargrave1937; Gladwin 1930; 1934; Hargrave 1932; Haury 1936; Mera 1932; 1935). The proliferation of pottery studies and descriptions for forms spread across the Southwest was so prevalent through the early 1930s that Hawley (1937) was able to present and organize description ceramic types found across the Southwest in a manual that includes most of the ceramic types still used today. An interesting early demonstration of the utility of this typology was soon provided by Martin and Willis (1940) who grouped a very large number of well-illustrated painted vessels mostly from collections of unknown provenience into regionally distinct types.

The rapid definition, organization and accumulation of immense amounts of ceramic data at such fine levels of temporal and spatial precision, through varying but related classification schemes by workers from different institutions investigating sites spread across the Southwest, still largely represents a vastly underappreciated accomplishment of early twentieth century American science. The few additions to the overall classification system of Southwest ceramics since then has included the occasional definition and modification of types and regions as well as a series of ceramic conferences or workshops focused on the refinement of ceramic types defined for various regions and issues relating to the use of ceramics and typology (Dittert and Peckham 1998). Other publications have provided useful syntheses relating to the use and nature of ceramic typology and discussions of broad trends reflected by the distributions of various pottery types that have been defined (Colton 1953; Dittert and Plog1980; Hays-Gilpin and Hartesveldt 1998; Peckham 1990). Other recent synthesis of Southwestern pottery types, including those commonly occurring in New Mexico, are provided by a combination of volumes by Oppelt (1988; 2002; 2007) that provide in various forms references, dates, and descriptions of Southwestern Pottery types.

Much of the information presented in the present document reflects an ongoing attempt to organize and synthesize information about previously defined pottery types occurring in sites in New Mexico. Information presented here has been derived from various descriptions and syntheses of Southwestern ceramics, as well as observations resulting from analysis by the author of ceramic collections recovered during archaeological projects across the state. Other information and suggestions included are based on the examination of ceramics from type collections from various institutions and discussions and correspondence with archaeologists familiar with pottery associated with various regional traditions. It is hoped that, information from other future projects, studies, and conferences, may be incorporated into this web-site contribute to a better understanding and consensus concerning the significance and effective utilization of Southwest ceramic typological data. All comments relating to needs to expand, change or clarify information presented in this document are welcomed.