Vessels, and Paddles, and Lasers, Oh My!

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Recently I have been interested in expanding our programming around the methods used by indigenous people to create and decorate ceramic vessels. While at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in April 2016 I saw Florida’s archaeology month poster, which features “Artisans of the Woodlands.” The poster described how Swift Creek Complicated Stamped pottery was decorated with intricate designs stamped on the surface of the vessel with a carved paddle; the poster even featured a replica paddle.  Ah ha!!!!! Genius! Now I knew what I wanted to do and I knew just who to contact.

Image of Florida's 2016 Archaeology Month poster titled Artisans of the woodland
The 2016 Archaeology Month poster from Florida.

When I arrived back on campus I contacted Claudia Wessner, OWHL Makerspace Coordinator, and asked if the library’s laser cutter could reproduce one of the complicated stamped paddles. She was sure it could and was excited to collaborate on such an interesting project. I just had to find JPEG images of line drawings that could be uploaded.

With that in mind I began looking through the book A World Engraved edited by Mark Williams and Daniel T. Elliott. The book focuses on the Swift Creek culture, which is centered in the Southeastern United States. The Swift Creek people are famously known for their pottery which features intricate paddle stamped designs. It is believed that by gaining insight and knowledge about these designs that archaeologists might be able to begin to understand more abstract aspects of the culture, such as religion and world view.

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This vessel is from the Peabody Museum collections and was excavated by Clarence B. Moore from a site in Florida. The vessel dates from 100 AD – 300 AD.

One of the designs that Claudia and I selected was a Late Swift Creek design (circa AD 580) which is a mask-like image with slanting eyes, furrowed brows, and a frowning mouth. The image that we used as a starting point for the laser cut design can be found on page 63 (Figure 6-1) in the chapter Swift Creek Design Investigations: The Hartford Case written by Frankie Snow in A World Engraved.

Image of the mask-like motif in clay
Image of the mask-like motif impression in clay

We also picked a design that was used in another type of pottery called Irene Complicated Stamped. The name for this pottery is only used for specific pottery found on the Georgia coast. To be honest I only picked this because we had just hired Irene Gates as our temporary archivist and I thought it was so fun that there was a stamped design that shared her name!

IMG_7522
The five paddle designs that we created. The Irene Complicated stamp design is the farthest on the left, made from 4 swirls that join in the middle.

Claudia and I spent an entire day testing out depth and paddle handle width and have finally settled on what we believe will be the best paddle type for the large variety of people who will be using them.  This has certainly been a fun and educational project!

IMG_7515
The laser cutter hard at work!

 

 

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