Crockett Curvilinear Incised Pottery Bowl

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.

34Lf40/845
34Lf40/845

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.

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Pottery Owl Effigies

Owl rim effigy – 34Lf40/1289 D#9 (written by Louisa Nash)

The Works Project Administration (WPA) uncovered these owl rim effigies at Craig Mound during their excavations in 1936-37 at the Spiro Mounds site. These owl effigies are pottery and were made from clay tempered primarily with grog. The owls are a grey color and measure 9 centimeters in length and about 6 centimeters in width. They are depicted naturalistically and are very detailed. Engraved lines emphasize their eyes and beaks, and they have “horns” or “ears” made of molded clay, which depict the tuffs of display feathers that large owl species have on the tops of their heads. Molded clay bumps representing feathers are also found on the front of their necks. These owl effigies were used as a decorative element and were attached on the rim of a ceramic vessel.

34Lf40-1289-owls-a-5-5-13
34Lf40/1289

The image of an owl likely carried important symbolic meaning for the people at Spiro.  Owls are seen less commonly in decorative images than amphibians, other kinds of birds, and reptiles, though owls still appear as motifs in a variety of artifacts throughout the southeast, such as in figures and pottery vessels. Dating from the archaic period, jasper beads shaped like owls have been uncovered by archaeologists (Hammerstedt and Cox 2011). At Spiro, a stone effigy pipe had been carved into the form of an owl (Hamilton 1952). In addition to the effigy pipe, water bottle tops found at Spiro also showed an owl motif (Merriam 2004).

The symbolic and iconographical significance of owls varies among different tribes in the Southeastern United States. In most cases, owls were regarded as a powerful symbol that indicated either a dangerous omen or curing medicine (Krech 2009). Seven different owl species live in this region, and many tribes associated these species with impending death or misfortune. During the 1800s, an anthropologist noted that many tribes associated owls with sorcerers, witchcraft, impending death, and the wandering souls of the dead (Krech 2009). Europeans also traditionally associated owls with witches and death.

34Lf40/1289
34Lf40/1289

Historically, the Caddo have linked owls with curing in addition to witchcraft (Hammerstedt and Cox 2011). Medicine men could take the form of owls and cure sickness. The Caddo also had a culture hero called Medicine Screech Owl, who was able to heal people and destroy monsters through touch (Hammerstedt and Cox 2011). Owls were likely associated with powerful but mysterious forces due to their nocturnal nature and frightening appearance. Their silence in flight and ability to hoot, hiss, and swivel their heads, further connected owls with supernatural capabilities (Krech 2009).