Written by Michele Greenan, Natural History and Archaeology Collections Manager at the Indiana State Museum
Archaeology requires a lot of patience, sometimes tedious fieldwork and perhaps a little guesswork. So finds like this one are especially exciting and fun to work on.
We recovered a ceramic vessel in southern Indiana last year during excavations at what is often referred to as “the Yankeetown Site.” It is about 900 years old and was made by one of the first groups in Indiana to incorporate corn as an important garden crop. The fragmented vessel was recovered in the corner of a structure, possibly a house.
Back in the lab, after the sherds (pieces of broken pottery) were cleaned and analyzed, we realized that we had enough sherds to reconstruct about ¼ of a vessel! Getting only ¼ of a vessel might not seem all that fantastic, but it’s pretty good news to archaeologists who are typically in the business of ‘all things broken.’ In fact, this is the largest portion of this particular vessel type that has been recovered thus far from this particular culture.
So … we wanted to get this vessel reconstructed just right. The edges were consolidated with a special material that soaks into the edge and solidifies, giving it the strength and stability required to hold a join without destroying the sherd’s edges. Then we glued everything together and added a bit of plaster to help support the vessel.
One thing you don’t want to hear from your project partner when you are on your way in to see your project is “don’t freak out …!” After having totally reconstructed the vessel, my partner-in-crime took a look at a particular angle and realized that the dense, heavy sherds had slightly shifted. Any amount of shifting can distort the entire shape of the vessel, so … we took the entire thing apart. The second time around, we were much more creative in how we stabilized it while drying —we became experts at foam sculpture! The vessel proved to be a unique form of cooking pan, possibly used like a ‘skillet’ (note the darkened burning in the interior base of the vessel pictured above). If complete, this large pan would have been about 23 inches in diameter!