Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Weirdest Object for this Season

What the heck is this thing? Please let me know if you have any ideas!!!

This is a partial ceramic object formed of a circular flat base with two small parallel linear projections, and three arms rising up at an angle. The arm on the left actually fits onto the base; the other two arms are just for illustrative purposes (there were clearly three arms).

We had the circular bases and arms classified in two different types (see photo 2). The bases were called "unidentified objects" and the arms were in the category "scored censers." It wasn't until Dorothy Hosler, our metallurgy expert, was puzzling over the circular objects and asking what kind of projections they had, that I thought to pull out some "handles" from the box of scored censers. Lo and behold, one of the arms fit right onto one of the bases (photo 3).

This thing is made of coarse paste with a crudely smoothed surface. Most pieces are heavily burned in an uneven fashion, suggesting that fire may have been involved in their use. The "tops" of the bases (with the two parallel projections) are more extensively burned than their bottoms.

The "tops" of the arms are all broken (photos 1 and 4). They are about 12 cm in length, after which they begin to curve inward. We have no idea how this thing looked in its upper part, but it seems logical to assume that the three arms were connected in some fashion.

The arms have crude deep irregular incisions on their top side (photo 4). These incisions were the justification for including the arms with our ceramic type "scored censers." This is a poorly understood low-frequency Aztec type made out of friable ware, and few if any whole vessels have survived. Now it is entirely possible that some or all of the "body sherds" of the scored censers type actually were part of the tops of these odd forms. We have tried refitting lots of sherds, but no luck yet.

So was this a stand for an ancient fondue pot? Was it a ritual object (always a good fall-back when considering an odd artifact). Or was it used in some kind of industrial activity? The crude nature of the ceramic material and finish, coupled with the extensive burning, suggest the latter possibility.

One reason for my ignorance about this (and many other fragmentary ceramic things) is that Aztec ceramic objects are poorly published. I discuss this broader issue in my Publishing Archaeology blog; see also my 2004 paper, Aztec Materials in Museum Collections: Some Frustrations of a Field Archaeologist, in the Nahua Newsletter.

So if you have any idea what this thing may have been used for, please post a comment, or better still, email me.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should turn it upside down. That would create a tripod for cooking or melting something. Just a guess. I am not a professional archaeologist but have been interested for years in all things to do with this area.

ronkiyo said...

Yes, I'm agree with Anonymous.

It looks like an ''anafre'',actually an ceramic anafre. You know, ancient mexicans have no idea about metallurgy, so they had to improvise with ceramic.

Jason M. Butler said...

all you need is a metal or ceramic bowl and a can of sterno. the burn marks are the tell tale sign. it could simply be meant to heat water for cleaning in the morning. or more of an aromatherapy use. mixing herbs and water in a heated bowl to get a scented steam. Id be looking for bowls with odd charred oil residue on bowl surfaces. the essential oils would cook out of the herbs then burn the bowl surface when the mixture dehydrated. the same thing happened with my mother and brothers aromatherapy bowls. the cooked down oils would be next to impossible to get off the bowl surface and once charred the bowls would be useless.