Friday, February 5, 2010

Let' s Make a Mend(s)

close-up slip decorated redware with mend holes

Depicted this week are two examples of mended ceramic vessels, one prehistoric, the other historic. For reasons often defended as simple convenience, in this modern day and age so much of what we consume (and especially the containers it comes in) is ultimately considered disposable. Here we have two examples where an item was spared the fate of the garbage heap, and instead repaired and presumably, continued to function well enough to still be of value to their owners.
slip decorated redware pie plate with mend holes

The slip-decorated red earthenware pie plate is from the Wilson Tract site, 36Ch687, a historic farmstead site where archaeological excavations were undertaken as part of a wetlands mitigation project in conjunction with modifications to route 202 in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. Notoriously difficult to date because of its ubiquity, this particular specimen of redware, characterized as Philadelphia-style slipware (Affleck et al. 2004, pg.7.85) can be reasonably dated to the mid 18th century.

Owasco horizontal cord marked vessel with mend holes

The other vessel, of indigenous manufacture with a horizontal corded design, was recovered from the Overpeck site, 36Bu5, situated along the Delaware River in Bucks County. Although found at Overpeck, a site attributed to the Delaware or Lenape, this vessel has been described as Owasco in style(PA Archaeologist Vol. 50 No.3, pg.27), a culture-tradition of the Late Woodland Period. The tell-tale characteristic linking these two pottery vessels is of course the mend holes, whereby string or twine would be tied through to hold the sherds in place, repairing the piece to a usable condition.

close-up Owasco horizontal corded pot with 2 pair of mend holes

The identical behavior being exhibited, that of repairing a broken item, in what one would assume to be two very different cultures and across a long period of time, not only illustrates the value placed upon something a simple as a utilitarian clay pot or plate but also emphasizes the behavior as pan-cultural as well as one that has been (at least until relatively recently) temporally enduring.

Today, the prevailing mentality of “just throw that one away and get a new one” represents a significant shift away from the way people have interacted with their material culture throughout the vast majority of human history. Our example highlights just one of the similarities between the cultures of the indigenous peoples of North America and early European Americans that we, as their modern descendents, generally speaking do not share with those same ancestors.

2004 Affleck, Richard M. et al.
Life on the Preiphery: Data Recovery Investigations of the Wilson Tract Site (36Ch687), Circa 1780-1820 URS Corporation, Inc. Florence, New Jersey

Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14
The Overpeck Site (36Bu5) Pennsylvania Archaeologist Volume 50, Number 3

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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