APACHE POTTERY IN THE EXTREME SOUTHERN SOUTHWEST
APACHE PLAIN AND OTHER PLAINWARES ON APACHE SITES IN THE EXTREME SOUTHERN SOUTHWEST
Deni J. Seymour (c) 2007-2008
2008 In "Serendipity: Papers in Honor of Frances Joan Mathien," edited by R.N. Wiseman, T.C O'Laughlin, C.T. Snow and C. Travis, pp 163-186. Papers of the Archaeological
Society of New Mexico No. 34. Archaeological Society of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
THE MATERIAL ON THIS PAGE IS COPYRIGHTED AND SHOULD BE APPROPRIATELY CITED (C) 2007-2008, Deni Seymour
Micaceous grayware pottery from the
Non-Micaceous brownware pottery from the El
Paso area with Apachean shape, though with
a flat bottom typical of the colonial period.
Close up of surface of apparent
Apache vessel showing surface
treatment and absence of mica.
Apache pottery is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the protohistoric and historic period in the American Southwest. There is so little of it that a comprehensive study
has not been accomplished. Descriptions that have been made illustrate a high degree of variability, which has confused researchers and inhibited an accurate and
overarching understanding of Athapaskan pottery. In New Mexico the dominant notion is that all Apachean pottery has affinities to the better-known Jicarilla pottery of
northern New Mexico. That pottery is micaceous and has a gray paste. Thus, people studying the Mescalero Apache seek plain gray pottery with mica in it as indicative of an
Apache presence. In Arizona, the Western Apache have received most archaeological and ethnographic attention. Consequently, pottery found in the Cibecue, White
Mountain, San Carlos area is used as a referent for the rest of the state, including for the Chiricahua. This pottery tends to be gray (but its color often depends on firing
conditions, on whether the clay was iron-rich or kaolin-rich, and also potentially on the presence of organic material) and often possesses striations and fingernail
impressions. The grayware of the much-studied Navajo lies geographically between the Western Apache and Jicarilla and shows relative consistency, including in paste
color (though it is often brown too) and vessel forming techniques, imparting the notion that there is a single relatively unified pottery-making tradition among Southwestern
But plain pottery found on ancestral Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache sites is very different from that found to the north among the Jicarilla, Western Apache, and Navajo.
In the south, brown clays were used and mica does not occur in such densities in natural clay deposits. Moreover, vessels were made with the paddle-and-anvil forming
technique, rather than coil and scrape as in the north. It is important to look for a different pottery signature in the south that is not so dependent upon our impressions of
Athapaskan pottery in the northern Southwest. Paste color, though a fundamental starting point for ceramic analysis in the type-variety system, is misleading and the
presence of variable amounts of residual or added mica is characteristic of the pottery of a number of groups, but not an index of Athapaskans in the south. What is needed
is an attribute-based analysis rather than continued attempts to pigeon-hole pottery finds into existing typologies.
The following paper summarizes these issues, considers the role of raiding and mobility in the character of Apachean pottery, and raises questions that hopefully will
reorient observations in more productive directions.
The on-line protohistoric plainware catalogue provides images of key attributes of known and previously undescribed plainwares in Arizona and New Mexico.
The Problem with Apache Pottery, Summarized
Close up of surface of Apache
Plain sherd from Heber area
showing surface treatment
and absence of mica.