Modeling hunter-gatherer ceramic production and use: a test case from the upper Texas coastal plain
Archaeological research continues to document the manufacture and use of ceramic containers in hunter-gatherer contexts in times and places unexpected by conventional anthropological and archaeological theories of ceramic vessel use. The upper Texas coastal plain is a unique area because of its long-standing tradition of ceramic vessel production and use by relatively egalitarian, mobile hunter-gatherers. Traditional models of ceramic vessel production and use associate pottery with significant social, political, and/or economic change. In order to assess the roles of hunter-gatherer pottery in food production and processing, storage, and prestige contexts, I evaluated three sets of hypotheses of pottery function derived from traditional archaeological ceramic theory, behavioral ecology, and foraging theory.I analyzed pottery from three late ceramic period (AD 600-contact) archaeological sites on the upper Texas coastal plain by paring traditional and developing analytical methods: (1) morphological analysis of attributes on ceramic vessels relating to vessel use and the degree of labor invested in production; (2) petrographic sourcing to detect degrees of movement and trade; (3) analysis of organic residues absorbed in the vessel body to determine types of food resources used; (4) thermoluminescence dating of pottery to achieve temporal control.Analysis of manufacturing attributes and use-wear characteristics of ceramic assemblages from three upper Texas coastal plain archaeological sites indicate that while vessels were engineered for direct use over heat, they were infrequently used in this manner. Organic residue signatures from selected sherds indicate that pottery was used for processing plant foods, especially on the site located on the coastal margin, but in upland and interior sites it was used for processing plants and large-bodied mammals.While the results of these analyses do not unequivocally disprove any other of the three vessel function hypotheses, they do provide more insight on mobility patterns and diet. Luminescence dates indicate that at least some of the portions of the sites are contemporaneous. Assuming that portions of these sites are contemporaneous, I suggest that there were two separate populations on the upper Texas coastal plain. The coastal margin population relied on primarily on small-bodied, r-selected resources, and a more mobile inland population used greater amounts of large-bodied resources. Mineralogical data indicate that the minerals in UTCP pottery samples are of local provenance, which is expected for groups with low residential mobility. Local mineralogical sources and the overall undecorated nature of the pottery assemblages suggest that UTCP wares were not frequently associated with ceremonial or social/political/economic prestige events.
- Anthropology