Pottery Bowl (Crockett Curvilinear Incised) – 34Lf40/845 (written by Louisa Nash)
This pottery bowl is 13.5 centimeters in diameter and about 10 centimeters in height. Engraved spirals decorate this vessel and lines curve around its body and rim; punctation also occurs near the engraved spirals on the body. The base of the bowl is rounded, and the overall thickness of the vessel is about 5 to 6 millimeters. With no evidence of charring, this bowl does not appear to have been heavily used for cooking.
Pottery is composed of clay and temper. Based on ethnohistoric analogy, women at Spiro likely made the ceramics. Archaeologists have found that most ceramics from Spiro were made with clay that was fine grained (Sievert 2011:29). The temper of this bowl is likely a combination of grog (crushed pieces of pottery), grit, and possibly small fragments of crushed bone (Brown 1996:358). Temper strengthens a vessel, preventing it from cracking during the firing process and during general use.
This bowl was made by a process called coiling (Sahm and Jelks 1962). Rolls of clay are first made by moving the clay horizontally on a flat surface or by moving clay between the hands (Rye 1981:67). The length of coils formed for making pottery is generally about 10 centimeters to 1 meter. Coils are placed on top of one another to give the vessel its shape, and then they are scraped and smoothed out (Rye 1981:67).
The fully-shaped vessel is then fired. The people at Spiro would have used open firing techniques. Potters would have controlled the rate of heating, the maximum temperature, and to some degree, the amount of air that the baking pottery vessels would have received (Rye 1981:97). Pottery is fired to give vessels the desired characteristics of hardness, porosity, and stability under many different physical and chemical conditions (Rye 1981:97).
The decorative style is classified as Crockett Curvilinear Incised, which is characterized by curvilinear motifs, such as scroll designs and spirals (Sahm and Jelks 1962). This particular bowl has an interlocking scroll motif that also includes doubly entwined spirals (Brown 1996:359). This style of pottery was made at Spiro from about A.D. 1100-1250 (Brown 1996:169).
The spiral and scroll motifs that appear on ceramic vessels at Spiro are believed to reflect wider Mississippian symbolism (Galloway 1989). The image of a spiral can relate to forms of organization and to movement. Ethnographic accounts show that several Southeastern tribes moved in a spiral around a central fire during dances and ceremonies. Dances involving the spiral motion were performed counterclockwise, which was the direction that people believed snakes coiled and was considered to be opposite to the movements of the sun (Galloway 1989:72). The imagery of the sun and serpent, which a spiral design might represent, also is indicative of the Underworld and Upper world in Mississippian mythology. Spiral designs, such as the one seen on this engraved bowl, might also represent the end of a whelk shell (Sievert 2011:32). These shells were important goods traded from the Gulf and were frequently crafted into items such as engraved shell cups, gorgets, and inlays.