Walnuts as a Potential Paint Source for Roosevelt Redware in the Cliff Valley of New Mexico

Author(s): Alexandra Norwood; Will Russell; Allen Denoyer

Year: 2016


Ceramic analysis is an invaluable tool for archaeology, and one that has been particularly useful in the U.S. Southwest. Roosevelt Redware, also called Salado Polychrome, dates from about 1280 to 1450 C.E. and is found throughout much of Arizona and New Mexico. The pottery tradition is a hallmark of the Salado Phenomenon, and its analysis has been applied to many questions, including those concerned with technology, exchange, identity, religion, and migration. The black paint on Roosevelt Redware is almost always carbon-based, but in recent excavations at the Cliff-phase site of Dinwiddie, researchers with the Upper Gila Preservation Archaeology project found large amounts of Roosevelt Redware with black paint that was visually consistent with mineral paint. Chemical analysis revealed that the paint was organic, despite its appearance. However, analyses could not identify the plant material used. A Native American artist, who lives near Dinwiddie, suggested that Salado potters may have used the seeds from black walnut trees to make paint. To assess this possibility, I made two batches of black organic paint. The first used beeweed, the plant most often cited as the source for organic black paint. The second batch used black walnut. Pottery was made using traditional methods, painted with the two organic recipes, and fired identically. The beeweed paint was visually consistent with Roosevelt Redware from elsewhere in the Southwest. In contrast, the walnut paint was visually distinctive and quite like the Roosevelt Redware at Dinwiddie. This experiment shows that purely organic paint can be mistaken for mineral paint, and suggests that Salado potters in the Cliff Valley may have been using black walnut seeds to paint their decorated wares.

Cite this Record

Walnuts as a Potential Paint Source for Roosevelt Redware in the Cliff Valley of New Mexico. Alexandra Norwood, Will Russell, Allen Denoyer. Presented at 2016 Southwest Symposium, Tuscon, Arizona. 2016 ( tDAR id: 401121) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8SF2XR8

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Geographic Keywords
New Mexico Southwest United States

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