Sign up for e-News Donate
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Ceramic Analysis

February 18, 2016

Woodland Pot SherdCeramic analysis considers a number of attributes of both the manufacture and the decoration of pottery vessels. These include the shape of the vessel, the kinds of decoration, the way that the decoration was applied, where on the vessel the decoration was applied, the kind of temper that was used in manufacture, and the kind of clay.

Ceramic analysis might study the specific decoration on pottery, to determine when it was made, and how it compares to other types of pottery. Different regions and different time periods will have different decorations on their pottery, and often use different kinds of temper or make vessels in different shapes. These details help us to date the site, map trade and communication networks, and determine if several groups of people might be present.

The clay itself can also be examined. Each region has distinctive kinds of clay, often with slightly different minerals or other inclusions. Archaeologists can identify if a pot was made from the local clay, or if it was made of clay exotic to the area. If exotic, they may be able to pinpoint the source of the clay. This provides good information for discussing trade and communications networks.