Reading Ceramic Use Wear: A Twist in the Plot

Author(s): Alison Bell; Donald Gaylord

Year: 2014


This narrative of archaeological surprise begins with relationships between mean ceramic and documentary dates for two early 19th-century Virginia plantation sites. Finding discordant dates at an overseer’s site but relatively consistent ones at a nearby enslaved woman’s site, we hypothesized that the overseer’s family used ceramic vessels longer, generating more extensive wear. Analysis under low magnification, however, produced the opposite results. These unexpected finds not only required rethinking the gap between MCD and documentary-derived dates on the overseer’s site, but also prompted consideration of social practices consistent with intensive, short-term ceramic vessel use on the enslaved woman’s site. Though documents portray her as solitary, use wear may identify her home as a hub of communal meal activity. Ongoing analysis of sherds from additional free and enslaved laborers’ sites may confirm the reading of ceramic use wear in these cases as relating to commensality among the enslaved.

Cite this Record

Reading Ceramic Use Wear: A Twist in the Plot. Alison Bell, Donald Gaylord. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. 2014 ( tDAR id: 436891)

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Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): SYM-35,12