Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Lantern censer"

Marc Levine sent me a citation for a vessel that matches our odd "fondue-pot" pretty closely. Several of these have been excavated at Cholula. Geoff McCafferty (2001:43) calls these "lantern censers" within his type Xicalli Plain, and illustrates two complete examples from the Universidad de las Américas excavations at Cholula.The vessel in the drawing shown here (from p.43) is from UA-79. This is a "minor vessel form" at Cholula, with 56 sherds excavated (table, p. 44). The overall type Xicalli Plain (with numerous vessel forms) is found in the entire sequence from Epiclassic through Late Postclassic, but its not clear whether the lantern censers occur in a more limited time span.

Geoff cites Muller (1978:129) for a photo of another example (see photo here). Muller calls this a brazier lid of the type "Cerámica Fresco Seco." She dates it to the Cholulteca III period, but her chronological assignments are often wrong.

This is as close to our odd ceramic type 180 as I have seen yet. Thanks to Marc Levine for pointing out the discussion in Geoff McCafferty's Cholula ceramics report.

This bring up the larger issue of using the internet to help identify unusual archaeological objects. In this case some good comparative materials were published, but we had yet to locate the descriptions. But in many cases the relevant comparative material is either not published or is published in obscure places that are difficult to find. Archaeologists always have a box of weird sherds that they can't identify, and when colleagues visit the lab one is sure to pull out the box to see if any of the sherds can be identified. I have found Tlahuica polychrome sherds (from Postclassic Morelos) in many such collections at labs outside of Morelos. Woudln't it be nice if there were a central website where people could post their odd sherds and get help identifying them? Perhaps something like "The Weird Aztec Sherd Site." Until that happens, though, I guess a blog like this can help in a small way.

McCafferty, Geoffrey G. (2001) Ceramics of Postclassic Cholula, Mexico: Typology and Seriation of the Pottery from the UA-1 Domestic Compound. Monographs vol. 43. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, Los Angeles.

Muller, Florencia (1978) La Alfarería de Cholula. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

3-Prong Brazier

Our odd vessel (photo at right; see prior post) is probably some kind of 3-prong brazier. We had figured this out in general terms, but the only examples I knew were the "3-prong burners" from Teotihuacan, which are very different from our "fondue-pot." But thanks to a tip from Liz Brumfiel I looked at the article in Latin American Antiquity by Joe Ball and Jennifer Taschek (2007), and found some vessels not too different from the Calixtlahuaca forms. (I should have been familiar with this myself, but I was several months behind in my journal reading.....).

Ball and Taschek note that these vessels from Belize had been confused in the literature with incense burners that share some similar traits. But their finds from a number of sites suggest that these 3-prong braziers were stoves, not censers: "The three-prong brazier was an article of everyday domestic service, not of mystical ritual use" (p.454). The illustration here (one of several very nice drawings) is from p. 452 of their article. Note that the flat base of this and other Maya examples have "a solid, center-point 'wing-nut' or 'bow-tie' applique" (p.451), just like the circular base of the Calixtlahuaca examples.

We are still trying to figure out what the top of the vessels were like. Our "prongs" open up on top into some kind of upper framework, but we haven't figured out yet what it may have looked like. But for our continuing work on this (and other) ceramic mysteries, the very informative (and witty) article by Ball and Taschek has been a great help. I tip my hat to Mayanists like Ball and Taschek for doing a much better job of publishing their ceramics than we Aztec folks (see also Borhegyi 1959, and other sources cited by Ball and Taschek).

Ball, Joseph W., and Jennifer T. Taschek
2007 Sometimes a "Stove" Is "Just A Stove": A Context-Based Reconsideration of Three-Prong "Incense Burners" from the Western Belize Valley. Latin American Antiquity 18:451-470.

Borhegyi, Stephan F. de
1959 The Composite or Assemble-it-Yourself Censer: A New Lowland Maya Variety of the Three-pronged Incense Burner. American Antiquity 25:51-58.