Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/668

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646
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE POTTER'S ART AMONG NATIVE AMERICANS.
By ALICE D. LE PLONGEON.

OF all the arts at which man has labored, that of molding clay was probably the first, the most primitive. It has been practiced in all parts of the world, and the thousands of specimens yet existing are an aid to archæological studies, particularly when found intact and unblemished. It is never easy to decide on the age of any piece, as this is not necessarily indicated by its appearance, least of all in places where, as in Mexico and Peru, cunning artificers manufacture antiquities, making jars a few weeks old appear like the time-begrimed handiwork of their great—very great—grandfather or mother; for women have been and are active in that branch of industry. The Mandan women were clever potters. The Zuñi and the Maya women also do much of that work. A new-looking, well-preserved vase may be a rare antique, while a roughly finished primitive one may be modern or of comparatively recent date. There are scholars who claim that some of the Central American and Peruvian specimens are thousands of years old.

In several parts of America it was customary to place various receptacles in tombs, close by the human remains, some jars being usually filled with food and liquid. The pottery found on the Atlantic coast is poor and not abundant, but there is a great quantity in the western part of the United States, as well as in Mexico, Central America, and Peru. Colorado, Missouri, and Ohio are States which have yielded very large collections, varying from crude work to some that is admirable, a certain similarity existing in all. The Alaskan productions are considered of a better quality, in paste and in baking, than any other on the American continent. Some of the large Alaskan vases were coated with a grayish-white wash, and polished after the manner of Phoenician wares. They were decorated with bold devices in black and dark red.

The North Americans modeled their utensils by hand, without wheel, and none seem to have understood the art of glazing. They mixed their clay with pounded shells, with sand, or with pulverized siliceous rock; mica was also used. After being shaped, the clay was hardened in open fires or kilns. Among the many ornamentations, that imitating basket work was much used, and may have suggested itself because the modeling was sometimes done inside of baskets. Similar devices are common on ancient German pottery. The Greek ornament (EI) was very common in America, while Phoenician art is suggested by some of the life forms seen on the Peruvian and Chiriquian