Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ten thousand potsherds

The richest deposit we excavated at Calixtlahuaca was a trash pit behind a small house in unit 307. As noted in the blog last year, we recovered 34 bags of sherds from a single 10 cm excavated level. When they were washed and counted, there were 10,323 sherds in those 34 bags. The density of sherds was 22,550 sherds per cubic meter, a record by far for any of my excavations. Well, we now have those 10,323 sherds dumped out on a table, where they are being sorted into types by our able sherd workers from Calixtlahuaca: Judith Peralta Ortiz, Delfina Jaime Urbina, Janeth Gutiérrez Peralta, and Julia Peralta Ortiz (who is missing from the photo).

In any domestic ceramic collection, the single biggest category is the plain jars (see photo). We haven't finished counting these yet, but they probably comprise half or more of the total collection. Much more useful for the project, however, are the decorated bowls. We have a whole tub full of these sherds from this level. We like these not just because they are attractive and more interesting visually than plain jar sherds. They are useful for dating purposes (ceramic types and styles change through time), and they help us reconstruct patterns of trade (since some of the decorated types were imported from other areas).

This rich domestic trash midden will be extremely useful for the project goals. Trash is good for reconstructing domestic activities and conditions (what did they eat? where did they get their dishes? what kinds of ritual or craft activities took place in and around the hosue?). And more trash is better than less trash. Also, this trash pit showed some stratigraphic changes, with a thin deposit at the base that may date to the Middle Postclassic period, a thick batch of Late Postclassic materials (including this one level), and then a very early Spanish colonial layer at the top (See Spaniards in hats).

We know that this was a special deposit when Marieke Joel posed with her 34 bags of sherds last year. But now that we are getting into the collection, it is turning out to be an especially important deposit. We classified all of the other levels from the trash pit earlier this season, but we left this one for last, afraid of its enormous size. But the time spent classifying all those sherds will be well rewarded when we get to analyzing the results.

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