Type-Variety System
Home Up Type-Variety System Field Methods Laboratory Methods Problems Presentation Sequence Analysis Muyil Sequence Summary Other Artifacts Burials, caches


            Smith and Gifford (1966:129) described the origins of the type-variety system during a procedural review of analytic techniques being applied to the Barton Ramie collection in 1958. Robles (1990:25-31) provides a useful summary of the definitions appropriate here, extracted from the published reports and articles (Smith, Willey, and Gifford 1960; Gifford 1960; Smith and Gifford 1966; Willey, Culbert, and Adams 1967; Sabloff and Smith 1969; Adams 1971; Sabloff 1975; and Gifford 1976).

            Ceramic type is a classification category for individual sherds. It is based upon surface finish, decoration, and vessel form. Form is used in a more limited sense than surface finish and decoration, since many sherds are too small for form to be determined. Types are distinguished from one another by recognizable visual and tangible differences (Gifford 1976:9). Names are ordinarily assigned by first giving a primary name corresponding to a place or geographic location within the known or assumed area of distribution of the pottery (Smith and Gifford 1966:129). Next, a descriptor, such as a color term or other adjective related to the surface treatment of the ceramic is added. Thus we have type names such as Viste Alegre Striated for an unslipped striated pottery and the town, within the distribution area of the ceramic, Viste Alegre. Finally, Robles adds, a type is an abstract category that indicates a particular ceramic class, produced within a defined area and within a specified period (1990:25-26).

            Ceramic variety is a subdivision within the ceramic type based upon small but significant differences between ceramics of the same type. Variations sufficient to establish more than one variety within a type may result from differences in the interrelationship of attributes, the presence or absence of minor attributes, or a local change of manufacturing technique. The first variety defined is called the established variety, and is the most abundant. The established variety carries the primary place name of its ceramic type, such as Chen Mul Modeled (the type), Chen Mul (the variety), and is written with a colon as "Chen Mul Modeled: Chen Mul Variety" (Robles 1990:26).

            A ceramic group is a combination of ceramic types. A ceramic group is a collection of similar or strongly related ceramic types that show a distinctive homogeneity in the variation of forms, paste color, technological traits, and other similar attributes (Smith and Gifford 1965:501). A group contains whatever number of types are required to deal with the variation of decoration (incised, dichrome, compound, polychrome) but which retain similar characteristics of paste and surface finish. A ceramic group typically contains several types. A ceramic type may not be part of more than one ceramic group. Robles notes that ceramic groups are used on occasion for more than simply a higher unit of analysis. They may be used without reference to type and variety when the study of the ceramics does not require a detailed analysis. Groups are also used to classify individual sherds that do not carry sufficient decoration, due to their small size or their state of erosion, to permit identification of the type, but that are clearly part of the larger ceramic group (Robles 1990:26).

            Ware, though often coincident with one or more ceramic groups, is defined as follows: the attributes of ware are those associated with paste composition and surface finish. Paste composition is defined by means of its texture, type of temper, hardness of the paste, paste color, and porosity. The surface finish is determined by the roughness or polish, presence or absence of slip, and burnish, luster or matte. A ware is a collection of ceramic units in which all the attributes of paste composition and surface finish are constants (Sabloff and Smith 1969:278). Robles omits the mention of wares in his analysis of individual types. He says that, since ware is a specialized consideration of technological and economic factors (clay sources, manufacturing centers) and by definition requires petrographic and mineralogical analysis of pastes, use of the term ware should be confined to such specialized studies. He recognizes the need for such studies to complement those of a type-variety analysis such as his own (Robles 1990:27). I have supplied the ware nomenclature, as commonly used, for convenience, knowing that the sherds so described have not been the subject of suitable petrographic analysis.

            A ceramic complex is a higher-level collection of ceramic types, varieties, and groups that in sum constitute one interval at one site or specific region (Smith and Gifford 1965:502; Willey, Culbert, and Adams 1967:304; Robles 1990:28). A ceramic complex may be divided into facets, subdivisions of time labeled early, middle, and late as required, to highlight changes within a complex such as the appearance of new types, varieties, or forms (Willey, Culbert, and Adams 1967:305; Robles 1990:28).

            A ceramic horizon marker is a readily identifiable ceramic type that appears contemporaneously (more or less) in several ceramic complexes (at different sites). By means of these clearly recognizable types, we may relate ceramic complexes from different sites to each other in time, an occurrence called a ceramic horizon. A ceramic horizon is defined by the presence of a horizon marker in two or more complexes, but it neither implies equal cultural development between the sites, nor implies that the two complexes are quite similar (although they may be.) Horizon markers thus provide a powerful technique to relate complexes between sites (Robles 1990:28-29).

            A ceramic sphere is the means of uniting and grouping two or more ceramic complexes when they share a very high degree of similarity (many ceramic types in common.) Thus, the ceramic sphere, unlike the ceramic horizon, implies a high degree of ceramic similarity (Robles 1990:29).

            These definitions supply the framework for the analysis and presentation of ceramic information and are those which have guided other ceramic analysts of Maya pottery.


Copyright 2000-2008 Walter R. T. Witschey   Page last updated Thursday, April 03, 2008