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Field Division of Education
Material Culture of the Pima, Papago, and Western Apache
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Pima-Papago pottery is rather crude, far inferior to Pueblo wares. It is nevertheless pleasing in appearance. The Apaches make none at all, although they are said to have done so up to about 1885.

The Pima obtain clay from several sources. Common ware which will be subjected to heat is made from clay obtained from the hills which lie on the southern border of the Gila reservation. It is a dry granular clay with much stone which must be winnowed out by hand. It requires no temper. A whitish clay is obtained from the northeastern base of Sacaton hills and from pits near the Casa Blanca ruins as well as the river bottom near the village of Rsotuk. These clays all require a temper of sand or ground pot-sherds. Red ocher is applied as a slip to all pottery except water coolers. Black gum, obtained by boiling chips of mesquite on which the gum has dried, is applied and becomes a deep black color after burning.

The implements used are: A wooden paddle about .268 m. long by .112 m. wide (Russell, 1908, 101, illustration), an "anvil" consisting of a smooth stone about 100 cm. in diameter, and various smooth stones about the size and shape of a finger for smoothing and polishing the surface. Various digging implements and baskets are adapted from other purposes to dig and prepare the clay.

The clay is thoroughly dried by spreading on blankets in the sun, then sifted to remove larger particles of stone. It is then mixed with water, kneeded into lumps the size of the fist, and set aside to ripen over night. The base of the vessel is made by spreading clay over the bottom of an old pot of suitable size and patting it smooth with the paddle. This is allowed to dry about an hour. After removing from the "form", the edges are moisted and coils are added. The coils are made by taking a lump of moist clay and rolling it rapidly between the hands to make a cylinder about 20 cms. long. This is pinched onto the base and into rough shape. If necessary other coils are added to complete the circumference. These are then worked into final shape by patting the outside with the paddle, the inside being supported by the anvil. Each coil is allowed to dry a little in the sun before the next coil is added. Consequently two or three vessels are usually worked at a time. The vessel is held in the potter's lap while the coils are placed and patted into shape, the handle of the paddle always being downward. When the vessel is large enough, it is placed on the ground with a little sand or earth heaped up as a support and turned with the hand as needed. The outside is smoothed with the small smoothing stones dipped in water with a motion from the base upward. When the shape is completed a red slip is applied, made from a dark red shale ground in water to make a thick pasta. It is applied with the hands and the surface rubbed down with a smoothing stone afterwards. The vessel is dried over night and burned the following day. Burning is in a shallow pit which has a fire built in it long enough to thoroughly dry out the soil. A little mesquite wood or decayed willow wood is spread over the depression, the vessel placed on this and surrounded with wood laid up "log-cabin" fashion. The burning takes about twenty minutes. When cooled sufficiently, the decoration is applied, the mesquite gum being placed with a sharpened stick made from Baccharis glutenosa and the vessel is again subjected to heat for a few minutes until the deep black color appears.

Pottery shapes are the olla or water cooler, often angular in profile, a varied number of cooking vessels, including parching pans and baking dishes or flattened plates, (neither of these forms are decorated), and canteens or water carriers. Spoons or ladles do not appear to be aboriginal. Plates and cups probably are also modern. The decorations usually are crude copies of old pottery from the ruins.

Much of the best pottery in Russell's time came from the Kwahadk village. Gaillard notes that the Papago made good dark red ware with black designs but none of the cream colored ware he found common among Pimas and Maricopas. If this is true, the latter peoples have copied their modern pottery from the Papago. Most of the pottery now ascribed to the Pima and Papago is modern trade ware but there has been some effort among the better class of curio dealers in Phoenix to ascertain and sponsor the old styles.

(Most of the above description is summarized from Russell, 1908, 124-130. See also his plates 16 to 20 for steps in manufacture and shapes. Of minor importance are: Gaillard, 1894, 294; Goddard, 1913, 144-145.)

The Apache are said to have abandoned pottery making about 1885. They made undecorated cylindrical cooking jars of medium size with convex to nearly conical bases. (Hrdlicka, 1905, 487.)

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Last Modified: Mon, Dec 24 2001 10:00:00 am PDT