5. Ceramics
Home Up Acknowledgements Background 1. Introduction 2. Locale; Exploration 3. Field Methods 4. Architecture 5. Ceramics 6. Sacbes, Sea Access 7. Culture History Appendix 1 - Lot Registry Appendix 2 References

Type-Variety System
Field Methods
Laboratory Methods
Sequence Analysis
Muyil Sequence
Other Artifacts
Burials, caches


Purpose of ceramic collection and analysis

            The most plentiful artifacts at Maya sites are ceramic sherds. They consist of pieces from a very few reconstructible whole vessels, quite numerous identifiable but isolated fragments, and a large number of unidentifiable crumbs. Since ceramics often carry the most abundant and detailed information about human behavior at sites like Muyil, the principal focus of our analytical efforts was ceramic analysis. The discussion below describes the type-variety system, which was the classification scheme used for the Muyil ceramics; the rationale and process of acquiring sherds in the field; how they were handled, cleaned, and analyzed; how ceramic complexes were established for Muyil; and finally, the form in which the detailed information about them is presented in the appendixes.

            As part of the field research at Muyil, sherds were collected to deal directly with our research questions. Typically, sherds are compared with those from other sites to highlight cultural contacts. In our situation at Muyil, for example, we were particularly interested in the extent (relative strength) and timing of influences from Coba and from Chichen Itza. Therefore, the collection of sherds to provide the counts and the stratigraphy for Muna Slate (typical of Coba) and for Dzitas Slate (typical of Chichen Itza) was essential. Sherds are compared with those from other sites to highlight trade — physical transport of whole ceramic vessels either for the vessels themselves or for their contents. At Muyil, for example, we hypothesized (as Robles found at Coba [1990:259-260]) that ceramics typical of Belize would disappear from the record in the Classic at the time Muna Slate began to dominate — indicating a loss of contact with Belize and increasing contact with the peninsula west of Coba. Sherds provide clues about the use of an area or a structure at a site (domestic, elite, ceremonial, religious, occupational). At Muyil, for example, we expected to encounter Chen Mul Modeled censers in ceremonial contexts such as shrines and temples. This proved to be the case and helps distinguish ceremonial locations from residential ones. Ceramic types provide a relative dating mechanism. When types are repeatedly found in certain stratigraphic contexts, with one consistently occurring stratigraphically higher than another in excavated material, we may cross-date areas of the site. At Muyil, for example, Late Preclassic Sierra Red consistently appears in stratigraphic levels below Late Postclassic Navula Unslipped. Sherds may provide clues to absolute dating when compared with similar sherds already dated by their association with material analyzed by radiocarbon dating or other similar techniques. For example, in several clear contexts, Muyil has Kukula Cream sherds. This type is placed, by association with radiocarbon dates, within the time span A.D. 950 - 1250 (Balankanche LJ-272, P-1132, LJ-273, P-1133, and Isla Cerritos I-14244, BA-14082, BA-14083, BA-14084, Canché M. 1992:Table 5 by Robles C., used by permission). With such information in hand, we may date certain structures to a particular era (for example, the lower portion of the sacbe system dates to the Postclassic.) We may also specify when the site was settled and where the populace was living and working at different periods.

            Since the type-variety system (see discussion below) is well suited for extracting answers to our research questions, and since the system is well established and widely used by Maya archaeologists, we used it at Muyil. To have done otherwise would have made regional and intersite comparisons difficult if not impossible. We furthermore realized early in our work that most of the Muyil ceramics were similar to those previously identified by other researchers and already placed within the type-variety system. We did not, however, force unidentifiable or questionable sherds into this classification scheme.


© Copyright 2000-2005 Walter R. T. Witschey   Page last updated Wednesday, April 02, 2008