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The Use of Documents in Ceramic Analysis Essay

In putting POTS together, documentary sources have served as texts. In these sources, the manner in which their authors categorized a small part of the material world (which happens to be ubiquitous on archae ological sites) could be approximated. The application of POTS to an excavated assem blage. or any other sort of explication of archaeological material from an historic period site, should also proceed with the documents in mind. Here, however, the archaeologist will be on more familiar ground, using the historical record, initially at least, as a source of data about the artifactual contents of the past. Doing history with objects is con siderably easier and the results certainly more complete if the historical record is used to fill in the holes in the archaeological records and vice versa. Of more far-reaching importance however is the fact that, by using documents, one can ask more interesting questions about the things one excavates. T

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hese objects, in In putting POTS together, documentary sources have served as texts. In these sources, the manner in which their authors categorized a small part of the material world (which happens to be ubiquitous on archae ological sites) could be approximated. The application of POTS to an excavated assem- blage. or any other sort of explication of archaeological material from an historic period site, should also proceed with the documents in mind. Here, however, the archaeologist will be on more familiar ground, using the historical record, initially at least, as a source of data about the artifactual contents of the past. Doing history with objects is con- siderably easier and the results certainly more complete if the historical record is used to fill in the holes in the archaeological records and vice versa. Of more far-reaching importance however is the fact that, by using documents, one can ask more interesting questions about the things one excavates. These objects, in turn, can be expected to suggest more inter esting questions about the documents.

Documents do not provide archaeologists with a “telephone to Glory.” However, ignoring the documents is at one’s own peril. This point can be illustrated through several cautionary tales. Two widely held propositions, derived from archaeological sources, about the cul tural significance of ceramics in 17th century Anglo-America suffer quite devastating defects which are the inevitable result of the failure to take full advantage of the historical record. The attempt to define socioeconomic status through ceramic assemblages is a genre which has gained considerable popularity in recent years, as historical archaeologists have strug gled with the challenge to impart some anthropological or social-historical signifi cance to their work. While explicit written statements on this topic (and many others) are rare in the study area, the proposition that in the 17th century Chesapeake there was a strong correlation between the numbers and kinds of ceramics an individual possessed and his wealth appears to have some currency. Confronted with two ceramic assemblages from a pair of sites whose occupants are known through the historical record to have been of considerably different means, it is quite easy for one to attribute any quantitative or qualitative differences which he or she is able to define in the pottery to differences in the wealth of his owners, consider no other factors, and leave the matter at that. turn, can be expected to suggest more inter esting questions about the documents.

Documents do not provide archaeologists with a “telephone to Glory.” However, ignoring the documents is at one’s own peril. This point can be illustrated through several cautionary tales. Two widely held propositions, derived from archaeological sources, about the cul tural significance of ceramics in 17th century Anglo-America suffer quite devastating defects which are the inevitable result of the failure to take full advantage of the historical record. The attempt to define socioeconomic status through ceramic assemblages is a genre which has gained considerable popularity in recent years, as historical archaeologists have strug gled with the challenge to impart some anthropological or social-historical signifi cance to their work. While explicit written statements on this topic (and many others) are rare in the study area, the proposition that in the 17th century Chesapeake there was a strong correlation between the numbers and kinds of ceramics an individual possessed and his wealth appears to have some currency. Confronted with two ceramic assemblages from a pair of sites whose occupants are known through the historical record to have been of considerably different means, it is quite easy for one to attribute any quantitative or qualitative differences which he or she is able to define in the pottery to differences in the wealth of his owners, consider no other factors, and leave the matter at that.

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This sort of analysis has been the bread and butter of prehistoric archaeologists for years. Whereas historical archaeologists are here treating assemblage variability as an index to wealth, prchistorians have traditionally treated it as an index to the presence of differ ent tribes or cultural groups. In both cases percentage and/or empirical frequencies, calculated for a variety of artifact classes, are used as a measure of distance, cultural in one case and economic in the other, between the occupants of a number of sites. As Lewis Binford (1968, 1972). among others, has pointed out. this kind of approach severely limits the interpretive possibilities of the archaeological record and its potential to inform us about the past. The problem is that in both cases it is simply assumed that the contents of the archaeological record and its determinants arc unidimensional. It would be surprising indeed to discover that any set of phenomena for which human beings were responsible was attributed to the operation of a single variable. Theory aside, this particular projection of our own ethnocentric notion that the rich will invariably possess lots of pretty pots has another shortcoming. A cursory examination of the inventories indicates that it simply does not fit the 17th century Chesapeake. Ceramics were optional for many of the early Chesapeakc’s wealthiest men.

A case in point is Capt. John Lee. a Westmoreland County. Virginia, gentleman whose estate was pro bated in 1674. Lee was a quorum justice, the brother of a member of the Governor’s Council, and with an estate valuation in excess of 200.000 lbs of tobacco and 24 laborers, the wealthiest decedent appraised in the county during the 17th century. Yet Lee’s collection of ceramics was exceedingly limited. The six quarts of oil and an equal amount of honey which the appraisers found “In Capt. Lee’s Chamber” may have been kept in a couple of earthen jars. Lee’s kitchen contained the three chamber pots, two old close stool pans, two porringers and a chafing dish. But all these items, save the chafing dish, may well have been pewter, given their relatively high valuations. The chamber pots were worth 15 lbs of tobacco each, and the two close stool pans and porringers were valued at 40 lbs for the lot. this at a time when butter pots, typically one of the most common ceramic forms, were worth only 7 lbs each (Westmoreland County. Virginia. Deeds. Patents and Accounts 1665-1677: 180). But even if one assumes in the face of this evidence that all these objects were ceramic. In Charles County. Maryland, settled like Westmoreland County. Virginia, in the 1650s. from 1658 to 1684 only 36% of the inventories of middling and wealthy planters list any ceramics (Walsh 1979: Table 2A). On a practical level, these examples from the documents mean that a meager ceramic assemblage from a 17th century Chesapeake site does not guarantee that its occupants were of meager means. This is not meant to imply that the appearance of vast quantities of porcelain and delft, for example, on a site suggests nothing about the wealth of its occupants.

Quite obviously it does. But once one realizes that ceramics were not de rigeur among the rich in the early Chesapeake, the interesting question is not whether rich people could afford more pottery than the poor, something anyone might have deduced with out touching a trowel, but why some indivi duals chose to buy lots of fancy pots while many of their peers did not. The second example is drawn from the work of James Deetz (1972. 1977). In attempting to develop a model for changing patterns of ceramic use in 17th and 18th century Anglo America, Deetz noticed a dearth of nearly all but dairy-related wares on pre-1660 sites around Plymouth. Massachusetts. Drawing on Anderson’s (1971) work on Tudor and Stuart English foodways he concluded, correctly, that eating and drinking vessels were generally not ceramic. Specifically, Deetz suggested that shared wooden trenchers and shared pewter and/or leather drinking vessels com prised the typical dining assemblage in early 17th century Anglo-America. Deetz outlined two phenomena visible in the archaeological data after ca. 1660. The first was a general scarcity of ceramic plates, the second a gradual increase in the absolute numbers of ceramic drinking vessels. He concluded that wooden trenchers continued to be the norm for food consumption, that ceramic plates served primarily as decorative items in lieu of costly pewter and that since trenchers do not survive in the ground, the increase in the  number of drinking vessels might be taken as indicative of a general trend toward more individualized consumption of both liquids and solids.

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The Use of Documents in Ceramic Analysis Essay
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In putting POTS together, documentary sources have served as texts. In these sources, the manner in which their authors categorized a small part of the material world (which happens to be ubiquitous on archae ological sites) could be approximated. The application of POTS to an excavated assem blage. or any other sort of explication of archaeological material from an historic period site, should also proceed with the documents in mind. Here, however, the archaeolog

2017-09-15 08:52:41
The Use of Documents in Ceramic Analysis Essay
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